The Shame of the Catholic Subculture

Editor’s Note: If you’re a regular reader of this site, you may notice today that this article is longer than usual. Brevity is part of our charism at The Catholic Thing. But we’ve been feeling from time to time that we need an occasional longer piece to deal adequately with some subjects. So you may occasionally see us – on a Saturday – in a new, longer format. No worries though, for all but a very few days a year, TCT will be the same reliable source of commentary and news you’ve come to expect. – Robert Royal

Come on.  You have noticed it too. The Catholic Church, which once evoked the phrase “Here comes everybody” (James Joyce) now brings to mind a narrow, fairly homogenous fragment of a slice of a piece of mankind. Sure, if you’re using the phrase sociologically, or even to include all the people who go to Mass more than twice a year, you can still pretend that the Church contains a wide swath of humanity, from illegal immigrant landscapers with Guadalupe tattoos to shark-suited neoconservatives working for military contractors on K Street, and everything in between. In that sense, the beer-sodden Kennedy voters at Boston’s Fenway Park are every bit as a Catholic as the pope.

But let’s use language a good deal more precisely, in a doctrinally rigorous sense. How many people in America actually believe all the central truths of the Catholic Catechism?  Public opinion surveys have revealed that high percentages of Sunday Mass-goers do not hold, or perhaps never learned about, transubstantiation (the change of bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist). Depending on which faction of the Catholic fragment you belong to, you can chalk up that ignorance to either the collapse of Catholic schooling, the dumbing down of the liturgy, or even to the suppression during the 1970s of the “unconscious catechesis” that used to occur every time the most unlettered peasant knelt for the Host and reverently took it on his tongue from the blessed hands of a priest. 

I don’t know that public opinion surveys have asked “Sunday Catholics” what they believe about the physical resurrection of Christ, or the Immaculate Conception, but if average Catholics believe what I was taught in my Catholic high school, then they are heretics – and probably don’t even know or care.

Practice is not a perfect mirror of what we believe, but surely it tells us something that the rates of divorce, premarital sex, and cohabitation are not a whit lower (and in some cases higher) among Roman Catholics than among most churchgoing Protestants. The explosive growth of annulments is partly an outright abuse on the part of bishops, and partly a recognition that many Catholics enter the sacrament with “defective intent.” Remember that if either party going into a marriage considers divorce and remarriage a possible option it invalidates the marriage. So most of the annulments given out nowadays are quite likely valid – unlike too many Catholic weddings. 

There are simple, radical, unpopular steps our bishops could take to stem the collapse of Catholic marriage, but we can see from the case of the German bishops the course they are far more likely to take: to throw out the principle of indissoluble marriage altogether, and shrug off the jurisdiction over marriage that the Church took on at the Council of Trent, leaving it to individual consciences to discern whether one’s first Catholic marriage was invalid, and his second civil marriage in fact sacramental. 

The elephant in the bedroom, of course, is contraception. The highest, the very highest, number I have ever seen cited for Catholics who accept and obey the Church’s ban on artificial contraception is 5 percent. Now, you could argue that there are large numbers of Catholics who admit that the Church is right on this subject, but they just find the teaching too hard to practice, and so they flout it. I don’t buy that argument; a Catholic with such a conscience, who believed that he was regularly committing a mortal sin, would know enough to avoid Holy Communion.  Short Communion lines and long Confession lines would be the direct result. 

Outside of Latin Mass parishes where most families include five children or more, I have never seen such lines. Have you? Then scratch that theory. Most Catholics who practice contraception have convinced themselves or been convinced that they can do so with a clear conscience. 

The implication of this sad fact is clear:  On a grave moral issue where several popes have invoked their full moral authority short of making an infallible declaration, 95 percent of U.S. Catholics (the number is surely higher in most of Europe) have rejected the guidance of Rome. They are not “bad Catholics” so much members of a new, dissenting sect – which happens to occupy most of the seats in most of the churches, and many of the pulpits and bishop’s offices, too.

Before the doctrinal tumult of the 1960s, almost every sociological Catholic was also, insofar as he gave the matter any thought, a doctrinally orthodox Catholic.  That doesn’t mean that the Church was rife with saints, of course. Human nature was always as flawed and fallible as it remains today.  But Catholics of every level of religious practice, however their lives might diverge from the Church’s teachings, pretty much acknowledged what those teachings were. They realized that they were sinners – or fancied themselves as “realists” – rather than becoming doctrinal dissenters.

Some questions of human behavior are best mapped on a bell curve, but the spectrum of faith looks much more like an umbrella leaning against a wall – a slow rising incline with a sharp upwards curve at the top. The people down at the tip of the umbrella are those least interested and informed on questions of faith, while those up in the handle are the most devoutly doctrinal. So in 1930, down at the umbrella’s tip you might find Mafia hit men, prostitutes, thieves, and superstitious peasants. Moving up, you’d see the level of knowledge and interest gradually increase, until it suddenly spiked – and up in the handle you’d find saintly mystics, fearless missionaries, as well as self-righteous bigots and Jew-baiting cranks. In between, you’d find all the ordinary people one might expect in a Church intended to serve and save the great mass of humanity, the people Chaucer pictured as pilgrims to Canterbury.

All these people along the umbrella differed in their levels of commitment, but their creed was the same. Al Capone was, and knew himself to be, a Catholic murderer. He did not proclaim himself a “dissenter” on the “life issue,” and align himself with friendly Jesuits whom he found more “open-minded” about the commandment he chose to break. Capone did not sponsor a group like “Catholics for Free-Fire Zones.”

With the controversy over birth control, the handle came off the umbrella. With the mass rejection of the natural law teaching presented in Humanae Vitae, the only people technically remaining as consciously orthodox Catholics was that 5 percent deeply interested in and committed to orthodoxy. There were saintly, self-sacrificing priests and laymen who suffered for their beliefs – and self-congratulating Pharisees who enjoyed being part of the “saving remnant.” There were working-class people who accepted the discipline of remaining open to life, or the ascetical practice of Natural Family Planning – and there were “white trash” Catholics who used the Church’s teaching as a pretext for going on public assistance. (A shocking number of self-consciously orthodox Catholics whom I have encountered, most of them graduates of small, fervently Catholic colleges, take advantage of food stamps and Medicaid, while patting themselves on the back for being “counter-cultural” at their neighbors’ expense.) 

It’s a very mixed bag. And a small one. A good friend of mine who works for a major Catholic publisher reported to me the results of some very pricey market research his company undertook, to turn up the actual size of the “orthodox Catholic market.” Many thousands of dollars later, his company learned that if you count Catholics who go to Mass more than once a week, or spend a single dollar on Catholic books or other media, or volunteer for any parish activity, the grand total for the United States of America is no higher than 1.2 million

That is the whole Catholic market. No wonder there isn’t enough revenue to go around. All the quarrels between traditionalists and Novus Ordo conservatives, between the lovers of Dorothy Day and fans of John Courtney Murray, are fights for pieces of this tiny pie. A pop tart, really.

And pop tarts aren’t health food. It isn’t normal for the Church to consist just of saints and zealots, ascetical future “blesseds,” and Inquisition re-enactors. Faith is meant to be yeast that yields a hearty loaf of bread. But since 1968 there has been nothing left to leaven, and we find ourselves eating yeast. (My apologies to English readers who love their Marmite.) The last time I was at the Catholic Marketing Network, which includes all the leading companies in the orthodox Catholic market, most of the attendees seemed to be people who’d bought their own booths – so the whole day was spent watching vendors try to sell each other their stuff.  (“I’ll trade you three copies of The Secret of the Rosary for one of those 3-D Divine Mercy holograms.”)

Man cannot live on yeast alone, and the Church cannot weather the storm with only the handle of the umbrella. We need to encounter a broader range of humanity than can be found in that doctrine-conscious 5 percent – which I’m sure is no odder or more dysfunctional than it has always been throughout Church history.  But we used to have the whole umbrella. 

The weirdness, bitterness, crankiness, and the general mediocrity that pervade the Catholic subculture – from its newspapers to its TV shows, from most of its tiny colleges to the poorly-penned books, and sloppy, sentimental blogs that flood the tiny market of conservative Catholic readers – is the direct result of having few people to choose from. Right off the bat, 95 percent of potential applicants for any position have disqualified themselves for doctrinal reasons.  Beyond that, it’s such a pleasant surprise to find a fellow orthodox Catholic. (“You mean that you’re 100 percent full-blooded Latvian, too?”) It’s tempting not to ask too many more questions – for instance, about the person’s qualifications, talent, or temperament. 

If he checks off the same doctrinal boxes, we accept him as a fellow Party member, and bend over backwards to think the best of him – at least until we get in argument with him over liturgy, doctrine, or economics. Then we spend all our time combating his errors, convinced that we are somehow helping to turn the tide of history, when in fact we are making waves in the kiddie pool.

Is this Church of the Umbrella Handle, with its much smaller set of human types, the “smaller, purer Church” of which Pope Benedict XVI spoke – or is it the subset of “neo-Pelagian immanentists” against whom Pope Francis warned?  Of course, it is both, and the wheat is irretrievably mixed up among the tares. But one thing is certain: It is as inbred as a pack of captive cheetahs, with all the dangers of deformity and disease that that implies.

What’s the answer to all of this? We need that other 95 percent. And given that the key issue on which most dissent hinges today is contraception, we need to do a much better job conveying the Church’s position to ordinary people. 

It’s a hard sell already, because the argument hinges on rediscovering and accepting that there is teleology in nature – that bodies and organs have purposes, not merely “functions” dictated by evolution. But that argument can be made, and we might start by boning up on how teleology and what Aristotle called “final causes” pervade the natural world. (For the best arguments on this subject, see Edward Feser’s The Last Superstition.) 

Next we can show people how, without some notion of natural law, we cannot make the case for human rights – much less for legal rights, or filigrees like anti-discrimination laws. (The best introduction to natural law is J. Budziszewski’s What We Can’t Not Know.) 

Finally, we can point to the miserable outcomes produced for children by parents who treat their sexual powers as toys in a selfish game of utilitarian hedonism. The statistics on children of divorce and of single parents are eloquent on that topic, and Charles Murray summarizes it concisely in Coming Apart

All of these truths can be argued without any reference to Jesus or the Church. They depend not on revelation but nature. And it is only by moving people toward a healthier sense of human nature that we can win them back to the mainstream of the Church – and thereby make the Church itself a healthier, more natural environment. 

I’m not saying that better arguments for natural law and Humanae Vitae will help make orthodox Catholics out of everyone – even though that’s precisely whom the Church is meant to encompass, from drug dealers to crooks on Wall Street. But we have to start somewhere. 

The Church as righteous subculture is unappealing to nearly everyone – including the kids who grow up inside it, who despite all those years of homeschooling and chapel veils frequently flee for what look like saner pastures. We need to stop treating people who don’t “get” the Church’s teaching on contraception as if they were clones of Judas, or heretics like Arius whom St. Nicholas rightly slapped. 

They are people who don’t understand a complex intellectual argument based on the remote implications of natural law reasoning, which is based on an older view of nature that modern science has not so much disproved as simply dismissed. Given the massive implications of this Church teaching for their personal lives, they aren’t willing simply to take the argument on authority. So arguing from authority won’t convince them; it will simply discredit the authority. 

Many Catholics oppose abortion, and treasure the sacraments, and love their spouses, and even have decent-sized families – all of it without understanding or accepting Humanae Vitae. Millions of psychologically normal, hard-working, well-meaning people have blundered into dissent, and ended up in the same camp with bitter heretics like Charles Curran, over this single issue. That single dissent softened them up to drift away from the Church on other issues, as well. 

We shouldn’t count these people out of the Church as we would those who willfully accept abortion or polyamory. We need to listen to their real questions and objections and do a much better job explaining ourselves. Or else that’s who we’ll go right on talking to – ourselves.  

John Zmirak

John Zmirak

  • Jim Soriano

    There is indeed a place for longer pieces on TCT as required by occasion and issue, and such is Zmirak’s fine analysis on the contemporary malaise in Catholic culture and his recommendations for renewal. My main comment would be that we should always keep in mind the distinction between a followership problem and a leadership problem, in the sense that the empty pews have as much to do with the leadership style of the bishops as with the individual choices taken by fallen away Catholics. To be sure, some bishops do lead. They’re in front of their troops and have come under fire. Would there be more such fortitude. For example, take Zmirak’s “We need to stop treating people who don’t “get” the Church’s teaching on contraception as if they were clones of Judas, or heretics like Arius whom St. Nicholas rightly slapped.” That statement is solid if taken to mean the manner in which a teaching is conveyed from leader to the follower, but St. Nicholas’ slap, after all, was an elite-on-elite confrontation. On that score, a very public take down by a U.S. bishop of a Cuomo or Sebellius would not only have the virtue of being grounded in morality, it would also help the followers “get” the Church’s teaching in the first place. It would rally the troops.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    Am I alone in finding an eerie similarity between the “Truce of 1968,” as George Weigal calls it, when the Congregation for the Clergy decreed that Cardinal O’Boyle of Washington should lift canonical penalties against those priests whom he had disciplined for their public dissent from Humanae Vitæ and the “Peace of Clement IX” during the Jansenist controversy?

    In both cases, after the Church had been riven by a decade-long dispute, a papal document was issued that was intended to be definitive.

    In both cases, the original quarrel was immediately forgotten and argument raged over the scope of papal authority to decide the question. In the Jansenist case, peace, of a sort, was achieved, when Pope Clement IX brokered an agreement that neither side would argue the question, at least, from the pulpit.

    The “Peace of Clement IX” lasted for about 35 years and ended in 1705 when Clement XI declared the clergy could no longer hide behind “respectful silence.” Eventually, in 1713, he issued Unigenitus and demanded the subscription of the clergy to it. There was enormous resistance, with bishops and priests appealing to a future Council (and being excommunicated for their pains, in 1718). As late as 1756, dissenters were still being denied the Last Rites.

    Will the “Truce of 1968” end in a similar fashion?

  • Pam H.

    I believe there are more folks who believe the Church is right on contraception but flout it, because they don’t believe it is a MORTAL sin. (Of course, there are plenty who don’t even believe the Church is right about contraception.)

  • Chris in Maryland

    A gutsy essay, which gets to the very bedrock of Catholic things.

    There is a speech from Fr. Robert Barron where he paints the picture a big of the problem: “Catholic schools.”

    He tells the story of his niece, who was an upperclassman attending what is considered “the top Catholic high school” in Chicago. He is visiting her family at their home, and sees her stack of text books: Shakespeare’s Hamlet for literature, her Math text book brimming with complex formulae, her science text alike to the Math. Then he sees the “religion” text book: content at the level of childish coloring book.

    Our “schools” and parents and Church do not consider the Catholic faith a subject for serious study. A faith whose founder told us: “ye shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free.”

    Our Church serves baby-food to its children.

    We (“we are it”) should be teaching high school students from serious texts such as “Introduction to Christianity” by Joseph Ratzinger. Instead “we” serve up Benzinger coloring books.

    Well, we don’t take our faith seriously…so why should we expect anyone else to?

  • Manfred

    I believe that this is the most comprehensive article on the post-conciliar Church I have read on TCT. After fifty years of the Spirit of Vat. II with its “auto demolition” (Paul VI), the methods of which we all know ad nauseam, we end up with 1.2 million orthodox Catholics in the U.S. Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict, as well as the cardinals and bishops, should take a corporate bow. The only ones applauding are Satan and his demons.

  • Austin Ruse

    Down in DC and in Northern VA there are long lines at confession both on Saturday afternoon and every weekday. At St. Pat’s the long lines are mostly men. Same thing at the Cathedral. It is quite stunning to see.

  • Christophe

    Another attack by a “conservative” publication on good Catholics who try to live the faith fully. With friends like Mr. Zmirak, who needs enemies?

  • Sue

    “They are people who don’t understand a complex intellectual argument …”

    What is complex about contraception? We all understand the problem with bulimia, don’t we? The problem is that we don’t see children as a gift, as we do food, anymore.

    I think rather that they are people who are formed by insidiously orchestrated media and peer pressure, and the failure of their own pastors to preach the topic at all. It was not for nothing the Rockefellers invested in behavioral research, in the decades leading up to the 1960s.

    The jewel in the crown was the hiring of thought-leader Theodore Hesburgh to be Planned Parenthood’s front-man to the Catholics.

  • Sue

    I also think this ortho-shaming is a shame. Humanae Vitae commanded the priests and bishops to *preach* it, and they didn’t. We shouldn’t let them off the hook and instead blame the faithful laity who stayed behind, even if their style is not “cool” enough.

  • Jim M

    As an alumnus of small, fervently Catholic college, I haven’t heard of any of my fellow graduates going on to receive public assistance, much less use their faith as an excuse to abuse public welfare at their neighbor’s expense. Many, perhaps most graduates of my school have gone on to earn advanced academic or professional degrees and then have gone on to find gainful employment. Alumni from my college have become professors, priests, religious, lawyers, doctors, business owners, one became a state senator, and many have become responsible mothers and fathers. I don’t know this white trash of which you so boldly and a little condescendingly write.

  • Ted Seeber

    Contraception is the love child of the mortal sins of greed and lust. John did a very good job on lust, butt barely touched the twin sin of greed. Those counter cultural welfare families are the ones saints come from.

    To paraphrase Papa Bene- one small child dying of AIDS in Africa is worth more than the entire worlds economy combined. Stop putting pennies ahead of people, and contraception will not stand a chance.

  • Sue

    “Remember that if either party going into a marriage considers divorce and remarriage a possible option it invalidates the marriage.”

    If this is true, and the current buzz question proposed by Pope Francis is the possibility of allowing communion for divorce-remarrieds, how is it possible for anyone to get married in the Catholic Church validly? This reminds one of a Magritte picture of a pipe, labeled “Ceci n’est pas un pipe” (“This is not a pipe”).

  • Lauri Friesen

    I am disappointed that TCT has chosen to give Mr. Zmirak another forum from which to spout his embittered accusations against (his term) “illiberal Catholics”. I did my best to struggle through this piece, out of respect for the editors of TCT, but his comments about “inbreeding” and “tares” when referring to Catholics who want to live as faithfully as possible once more convinced me to ignore anything with his name on it.

  • DXM

    Modern culture imparts positivism and relativism so overwhelming that it is hard to imagine the Catholic Church effectively combating it.

    On the issue of allegedly “self-righteous cranks” among the remnant of orthodox Catholics, Mr. Zmirak’s piece is quite unfair. Unpleasant people are endemic to all groups. Yes, it does seem “weird” to reject our debased culture when everyone else seems to joyfully embrace it. But is Pope Francis’s approach of “smile and turn a blind eye” really better?

  • Fr. Seamus

    I find this article very compelling but wonder if the real fault line today isn’t contraception so much as it is gay marriage. I am watching people stream out the doors over what they consider a great injustice. Contraception they could ignore from the pews – gay marriage is public and unavoidable. At least in New England I think it is this issue that will have to be addressed first. And it is much more difficult to engage in a pastoral way.

  • Michael Walsh

    I’ve read Mr. Zmirak’s shallow indictments of traditional Catholics in which he paints them all with a broad brush as closet monarchists dying to establish a confessional state. He prescribes a heavy dose of popularized Straussian Americanism to treat this condition. He makes some obvious and valid points here: an embattled minority struggling against winds at gale force are not always neat and tidy.

  • Ernest Miller


    What is meant by “…as well as self-righteous bigots and Jew-baiting cranks?”

    Notwithstanding all the Jewish failures in the Old Testament necessitating the humble birth and suffering of Jesus for all mankind, is not His Church (…upon this rock) the only true church?

    If so, then when I lament that Jews need to repent and join the Church am I a self-righteous bigot or Jew-baiting crank? Which then sits up a potential dichotomy: if Jews outside Catholicism are to be revered and respected, then why should I condemn 95% of Catholics?

    Any insight much appreciated…thanks.

  • Howard Kainz

    This article is on target, insofar as it points to Paul VI’s Humanae vitae as the springboard for massive dissent against authority among Catholics. However, why point to the laity, rather than the clergy? Have you ever heard a sermon or homily on the prohibition of contraception? And what about cases among married Catholics where one spouse one day decides to contracept? Divorce recommended? And the appeal to “natural law” does not take into account the almost universal objections among ethicists to natural law theory, which have to be addressed for the few who are philosophically inclined and motivated to go deeper into natural law.

  • Stanley Anderson

    Sue took part of the words out of my mouth (or my post) when she wrote, “We all understand the problem with bulimia, don’t we?” As I read the article, I wanted to add another item to the list of arguments that John Zmirak lists in conveying the Church’s position. It is not an end-all-and-be-all sort of argument at all – in fact perhaps dangerously open to misuse and abuse. But I think it is at least useful as an “opener” for discussing the more nuanced arguments that Zmirak lists (and one I have used at times).

    The derogatively-intentioned term I have come across too often in reference to the Catholic view of sex in general is “prude”. The idea of course is to imply that Catholics hate sex and want to limit it severely, if not eliminate it entirely, were that possible. My response is that it is members of this sex-drowned society that are the actual prudes, if that term can be accurately applied anywhere. For how much more limiting to sex can it be to reduce it to merely a momentary pleasure center reaction in the brain and then truncate any possible actual connection to anything else outside that pleasure center. The great “fullness” of sex is constrained to a shadow of its intended manifestation. It is, as Sue wrote, like bulimia where one gets the “pleasure” of eating, but then cuts off the effect of that action. Or like the video game enthusiast who can simply reset the game or use another of his “lives.”

    Or, as in the type of mathematician’s illustration I most tend to use, the person who would prefer to gaze only upon a dim faded Polaroid snapshot of the Grand Canyon rather than stand at its edge and look out over the incredible vista or travel down along its sides to the waters below and be engulfed in the canyon’s beauty all around. For this preference of a dim two-dimensional photo over “the real thing” is the “prudish-ness” of what I called the “sex-drowned” society. But even the phrase “sex-drowned” is not correct – “faux-sex” might be more accurate since what they call sex is only a surface appearance.

    So the “opener” I would suggest is to somehow get across the simple inadequacy of true pleasure and lack of “fullness” that the modern view of sex manifests, emphasizing the aridity of the modern view. Again, this approach, appealing solely to “pleasure”, is probably dangerously open to misuse by implying to the addict something like “well, in that case, have the babies AND do everything else we like doing too.” And the “answer” to that sort of reasoning is along the line of the way we treat something valuable and precious – we also don’t swing baseball bats around in a china shops or mow down forests for no reason in a suppose display of “tolerance” in allowing any and all actions as being somehow all-encompassing.

    And that, of course, begins to get into the more nuanced aspects of discussion, the very thing that is so difficult to engage in with modern audiences. But perhaps the “opener” I suggest can at least provide a peek into a crack in the wall to that glorious world outside the dim enclosed materialist world of our modern so-called “enlightened” society?

  • patrick

    Very perceptive. As DXM suggests, I’m not sure though that the real issue is contraception per se, but pervasive moral and cultural relativism. Many people today have difficultly understanding the basic meaning of objective truth. Saying that something is definitely true or false regardless of your feelings or perspective is viewed as a sort of cultural imperialism. Given that, it’s unsurprising that people don’t see the point of the Church, unless they happen to enjoy going to Mass because they like the music, their friends are there, or something like that. Fortunately, I think the worst of it is behind us. More young people today seem to be able to see the absurdity of being “Catholic” but not actually subscribing to the teachings of the Church than did in the last generation. It’s a fundamentally bizarre and unattractive position, so I don’t think it can go on forever.

  • Maggie Gallagher

    It seemed to me the conclusion did not follow from John’s premises: the Orthodox are small in number, and perhaps disproportionately people attracted to order, authority and well, orthodoxy. We need to reach out more. And talk more and more about contraception? I would guess we need to talk more about transubstantiation first.

    To me, we need more poets, novelists, playwrights, songwriters, painters, comic book writers who write out of the deep mystery that our being is grounded in a God who is perfectly good and who loves us. That we sin, and fall, and rise and fall again. On our own we cannot escape death or the small destructions we wreak on our selves and those we love. That he comes down to be with us every Sunday amid our sins and our troubles. God became man and is with us.

    The banality of the liturgy is perhaps the biggest barrier to a larger Catholic church. The bishops’ focus on the cognitive content and forget what cannot be conveyed in mere words is the most important thing–hence the Eucharist.

    I do not know how many people would accept the Church’s teachings on contraception if it were taught. I have heard in 30 years of mass-going only one sermon on it.

    Father Seamus I would like to hear more about your experience around gay marriage, which you are right is public and is now the dividing line in public culture between good people and bad people. (My email is

  • frredx2

    Great article, much needed.
    If Catholicism is true, it should produce a superior way to live.
    If Catholicism is a superior way to live, we should be able to demonstrate that.
    We should be able to demonstrate that with simple, common sense argumentation, not obscure appeals to natural law concepts. We are talking to normal people here.
    For example, we have to be able to convey the fact that Catholic living produces stronger, more resilient, happier families. THAT is what everyone wants.
    Our vision of Catholic family life must be superior. It is not about birth control, it is about the proper way to construct a family
    That is why Pope Francis is calling a synod about Family life – he wants to focus the church on the family, not on why they should accept Humanae Vitae. Once people understand that Catholic family life is richer and more meaningful, they can understand WHY contraception probably causes more harm than good.
    If Catholic family life is not richer and more meaningful, why should anyone accept Catholicism?
    The Catholic church has very good, very sound doctrines, but the church is the biggest failures imaginable at conveying these ideas in normal language to normal people. You cannot tell someone that the reason that contraception is wrong is that there is a unitive aspect and a procreative aspect to marriage. The words mean nothing to the average person, you might as well be speaking jibberish.
    You have to talk about the effect on their lives, their families and their happiness.

  • Santiago

    So the plan is, let’s teach natural law and teleology first, and Jesus second. Hmmm…

  • Tina Heffelfinger

    You lost me I read ““white trash” Catholics who used the Church’s teaching as a pretext for going on public assistance. I have 6 children we are able to sustain without any government assistance however I still find it offensive and has no place in such an article. In a time when lives are being snuffed out at such an alarming rate by government funded abortions and contraception. I could go on and on but I don’t have the time.

  • Frank

    To use an archery analogy, the author IMHO has hit the target but far from center bullseye. The early church grew by dispersal as a result of persecution. Today, many of the wounds the Church suffers are self inflicted but take those wounds away, there will still be persecution. Our Bishops in our American Dioceses are enablers of our Catholic political class. Until the usual suspects; Pelosi, Biden, DeLauro, Sebelius and the rest of them receive a sharp stinging rebuke that may include excommunication for their positions on abortion and gay marriage, forget it. What are the Bishops and the rest of the Church leadership afraid of; increase in the numbers and severity of those persecuted? It’s already occuring. The Church and the American Church in particular has departed from its role as a stalwart of both the love AND the warnings the Gospels teach us. Soft and squishy is a fool’s errand.

  • Pat

    I believe there is a new trend among faithful Catholics to throw other faithful Catholics under the bus in order to say to less faithful Catholics “see, I’m not like them.” I certainly understand the point of this essay, that we cannot reject or turn away or discourage those who don’t understand or aren’t ready to accept Church teaching. I really do. The thing is, almost all of the faithful Catholics I know have a great love for those who are wounded and broken and confused. Of course, that’s because we’re all wounded, broken and confused. But there is a fine, critical line between loving someone who promotes or celebrates harmful dissent, and affirming them. And our culture today is all about affirmation.

    Let’s be careful not to characterize most orthodox Catholics as intolerant and unloving, because it just isn’t so. It is simply another way to divide followers of Christ and discourage them from speaking truth in love.

  • Frank Gibbons

    Robert Royal,

    Please edit this article to remove the “white trash” reference. I shouldn’t have to tell you why.

  • Peter, MT

    Today’s column and all commentary are why I look forward to TCT everyday. There is hope. Thank you all.

  • Francis P. O’Connell

    I would like to thank Mr. Zmirak for an excellent and provocative column. I wonder about the prescription, however, for his new evangelization. There was a interesting debate between, among others, David Bentley Hart and Edward Feser about whether, given the “metaphysical nihilism” that has taken hold, any natural argument could convince anyone “but the already converted”. Perhaps I have not quite grasped the nature of the dispute (and I would love to see an invited response by Hart), but I tend to side more with Maggie Gallagher’s position that beauty, goodness, love, and grace is indispensable to a successful rapprochement.

  • Robert Royal

    Several readers have suggested I should cut phrases in John Zmirak’s article. Some don’t like “white trash”, others have complained of “shark suited” defense industry lobbyists, and so forth. I want to restate a principle I established when we founded The Catholic Thing: we are real Catholics here, but otherwise we have room to disagree on prudential questions and even on assessments that some may find offensive. Let me be quite clear about what this means: it means even your editor does not necessarily agree with every word that appears on this site. But within the horizon of Christian liberty, it’s good that we have some differences that lead to discussions and, who knows, maybe even some fresh ideas? One of my touchstones in these matters is the great Charles Peguy: “A publication only continues to have life if each issue alienates one-fifth of it’s readers. Justice lies in seeing that it is not always the same fifth.” Let’s try to draw some light from our disagreements. We may surprise ourselves.

  • Adeodatus

    I like this longer format. Some of these issues deserve a longer treatment, particularly something as vast as the general mediocrity of Catholicism in the Western world. While Zmirak’s remedies for this widespread problem seem rather inadequate, he at least identifies a problem too many Catholics ignore. We ignore the kids who drift away from the Church. We ignore the encroachments that secular culture continues to make at the cost of Church. We ignore our own ignorance, thinking that a few warm fuzzies on Christmas will make up for our Biblical illiteracy and theological distortions.

    Fortunately, some truly talented apologists, featured on this site as well as others, have gone to work to recover the Catholic identity, disprove the fundamentally flawed notions of modernity, and have restored Catholic scholarship–I disagree with Zmirak’s criticism of Catholic media; some sites are pretty darn good; Strange Notions has become one of my favorites. Mainstream Catholics, including their leaders, simply need to listen and engage in the dialogue. Although I found Zmirak’s suggestion to bring up the debate over contraception, out of a Christian context, downright awkward, I think some of the comments have provided a worthy supplement. If contraception has now led to a culture of tepid hypocritical Catholicism, and it has to a large to a degree, Catholics leaders need to uproot the issue altogether instead of simply treating its surface in occasional rants like this one. What leads to contraception in the first place? A lack of knowledge, a lack of reverence, and a lack of self-control. How seldom does a priest, or a parent, or a CCD instructor actually address these issues. Rather, they tell kids and adults that they can have fun, joke around, and remain blissfully ignorant as long as God resides somewhere in their hearts. Chris’s reference to Fr. Baron’s niece having a children’s book for religion alongside sophisticated books for every other subject illustrates just how seriously we take our faith. Priests and parents want wholesomeness, not holiness, redemption without the cross. This lackadaisical attitude often produces ignorant despondent Catholics who do a fine job at discouraging potential converts as well as Catholics who try to do the right thing.

    Frredx2 has the right idea in how to combat this: let’s try to show how right the Catholic Church is on these issues. If everyone followed the teachings of the Church and Scripture, they would not even need to argue the finer points of Humanae Vitae. A nuclear family that tends to the spiritual needs of its members will have success: they will be happier, more productive, more intelligent, more loving, and of course, much better positioned to reach the Kingdom of God. Jesus accepted sinners, but he did not accept slackers, nor did he accept dunces. He asked us to be fruitful and to cultivate and use our talents wisely. Paul demands the same things in each of his letters. God will help in producing excellence; Catholics just need to accept the challenge.

  • Tina Heffelfinger

    What good is the assessment if it offends. We all know that Catholics are all not in agreement with the doctrine. Maybe you need to consider turning your umbrella right side up and try to shelter others from the storm with prayer and kindness instead of labeling them and judging them.

  • JP

    Mr. Zmirak’s column is obnoxious and offensive. It is below TCT’s usual standard, and I am disappointed to see it here.

    Mr. Zmirak calls out orthodox Catholics for being supposedly weird, illiberal, judgmental and cliquish in a tirade that itself is weird, illiberal, judgmental, and full of name-calling.

    What are these low-quality blogs and publications he is talking about? Ignatius Press, First Things, TCT, ETW, the National Catholic Register, Chant Cafe, and altcatholicah? Is he referring only to Bad Catholic’s Bingo Hall? Come on, Mr. Zmirak. Have some charity toward your fellow Catholics.

    Mr. Zmirak’s most valuable contribution in this article is the point that orthodox Catholics are a vanishingly small community in the U.S. He might also have said that we are a dying community too, because serious Catholics aren’t getting married and having children anymore except in those Latin Mass parishes that Mr. Zmirak describes so condescendingly.

    The other valuable contribution Mr. Zmirak makes is the observation that that if our community is so small, we ought to be reaching and reaching out and re-evangelizing our separated Catholic brethren. Amen to that. There is no more important challenge before it.

    However, Mr. Zmirak obscures his contribution by exaggerating factionalism among daily mass Catholics. I just don’t see it myself. There are Latin Mass partisans, but the number of Novus Ordo partisans is vanishingly small and probably exists only Chancery offices. Most Catholics have a personal preference but are happy to see a solemn liturgy in either form.

    How many Dorothy Day partisans are there? Many remember her fondly and honor her holiness, but she is simply not the political symbol of liberal Catholicism that she might have been fifty or sixty years ago. In a sign that truth and quality are lasting, Day’s memory remains, but the liberal Catholics who made an icon of her are mostly gone. There is no division or controversy over Day today.

    A healthy diversity in any community does mean that cranks exist, but Mr. Zmirak defines as cranks those who don’t share his particular high-priority litmus tests. Are annulments a problem? Surely. But they are a symptom of bad catecheis rather than the cause. And while the sheer number of annulments is disturbing in itself, the reality is that many annulments granted today probably are valid and appropriate, given the broader crisis in catechesis and marriage preparation that Mr. Zmirak himself admits and refers to. It’s not for those who are outside the tribunal to judge.

    In a column about the lack of charity in Catholic discourse, it is regrettable that Mr. Zmirak chooses to start by naming and shaming those who aren’t–and I will say it–cranks like him. Shame on the Catholic community? No, Mr. Zmirak, shame on you. Your column exemplifies the sort of writing that makes our separated brethren think they are better off without us. If you want to help the cause, try being nicer next time. Show some of the civility you accuse others of lacking.

  • St. Longinus

    The author lost me at: “….self-righteous bigots and Jew-baiting cranks”.
    I skimmed the rest and came across “Man cannot live on yeast alone, and the Church cannot weather the storm with only the handle of the umbrella.”
    The author indicates he doesn’t understand God’s Church.
    The elephant in the room isn’t contraception, it’s sin and what the church does about it.
    All done.

  • Just a Guest

    Sue–please elaborate! I know he’s a misogynist, but I’ve not heard anything about your statement: “The jewel in the crown was the hiring of thought-leader Theodore Hesburgh to be Planned Parenthood’s front-man to the Catholics.” Please don’t leave me in suspense!

    Chris in MD: exactly! Want another example? College! I was at Notre Dame. In RCIA. Bear in mind here are students that made it into Notre Dame. It was kindergarten redux.

    Day 1: The quantity and assortment of glitter glue, sequins and other shiny crafty products with which we were to decorate our shiny 6″ round mirror could have fed a small village outside Kampala, Uganda for a week. (Some friends were there putting their faith in action while I rolled my eyes in this K-RCIA.) The assignment was something like (I’ve blocked the actual instruction) depicting in “art form” what you feel like when you pray. Good times.

    Day 3 or 4: We play ring around the rosey! We are in a large room with notebook sized pieces of paper on the floor arranged in a large oval along the perimeters of the room. We and are each handed a Rosary. (No, we were not asked if we had our own!) I think you can visualize the rest of this little exercise. The sight of 20 college students being treated like 5 yr olds sickened me. I didn’t go back (to that RCIA).

    No Ratzinger, no encyclicals, none of the many amazing faithful ND Priests or Profs to present anything to us. Just demeaning exercises. How very, very sad huh?

  • diaperman

    people need to chill out and/or get a thicker skin…this piece was right on target in a number of ways. There are plenty of kooks among the ranks of the orthodox…just check the comboxes of this and other conservative Catholic websites. It’s even worse for the public image of “Christianity” that fundamentalist Protestants have created.

    I disagree with one point however…it is time to give “natural law” a rest for a while and get back to the gospel message itself. That’s my takeaway from the papacy of Francis thus far.

  • Bruno

    Whathever is the problem with orthodox Catholics as a whole, or with each of them, it is not they who are responsible for our current situation.

    How easy a target is your weird Latin Mass goer right there on the corner, especially now that even the Pope doesn’t seem to like him as well.

    You think we are weird sir? I think that too. I am a member of our society too, you know, and I am sensible enough to know I could be called a fanatic, or a prude, or weird. In that respect, I have full capacity to see myself the way I may be seen by others. But I’m also aware that those are things that accompany this sort of calling, and that fear of weirdness is no reason to prevaricate. So I’m not a traditional Catholic because of a love of distinction, nor do I take pride in it. Rather, I try to remain faithful despite all the renunciations (and there are many) and discomforts that come with it, simply because I know no other way of following Christ.

    Truly yours,
    Weird Rosary Prayer

  • Sherry

    Speaking of Dorothy Day, there was an excellent article by Stephen Beale in Crisis Magazine entitled “The Dorothy Day Few of Us Knew”. Dorothy Day talks very beautifully about sex in a way that would help people see it in its proper perspective:

    “In one 1950 column, she wrote disapprovingly of how coal miners frequented taverns where there were “slot machines selling contraceptives, like chewing gum or chocolate.” She repeated her reprimand on contraceptives for Vietnam-era soldiers on leave before battle. “What a misuse of life forces!” Day wrote.

    Day, who had an abortion early in life, became an ardent pro-lifer who didn’t shy away from discussing the issue in her columns. She urged her readers to follow the entirely of the Church’s teachings on abortion, birth control, and divorce in a column published in the early 1970s—when the modern feminist movement was in full swing. “We may stretch towards it, falling short, failing seventy times seven, but forgiveness is always there,” Day wrote.

    Day was an advocate for civil rights and women’s suffrage—her protesting often landing her in jail—but in one 1963 column she sounded more like John Paul II than Gloria Steinem in condemning pre-marital sex:

    Sex is a profound force, having to do with life, the forces of creation which make man god-like. He shares in the power of the Creator, and, when sex is treated lightly, as a means of pleasure, I can only consider that woman is used as a plaything, not as a person. … On the other hand, the act of sex in its right order in the love life of the individual has been used in Old and New Testament as the symbol of the love between God and Man. Sexual love in its intensity makes all things new and one sees the other as God sees him. And this is not illusion. … It is the foretaste we have of heaven and all other joys of the natural world are intensified by it, hearing, seeing, knowing.”

    We have to show young people what good marriages look like – and the joys and blessings of children and healthy families. Between confirmation and “engagement encounter” there is big void in terms of education on life, love, dating, relationships, chastity, and the joy God means for us, if we don’t get in the way.

    Also, movies and TV could really help to show the goodness of marriage between men and women – rather than the sad portrayals of “marriage” today.

    Catholic education should show DVDs of happily married couples who tell their stories of trials and tribulations – but who are joyful in a way most people are not. All you have to do is go to a mall to see how so many are lonely and sad and alienated people.

    We have a wonderful story to tell. Most people are not going to read intellectual books to convince them of things they do not want to be convinced of. So it is essential to have the best creative minds get together to brain storm and come up with better ideas of getting the message across.

  • Sygurd

    Thank you, Mr. Zmirak, for this excellent analysis; it raises so many important issues that it is not possible to comment on them all. The most important conclusion one can draw here is that Catholicism – and perhaps Christianity in general – is a religion in deep decline (note, please, that I say “religion” and not “faith”). The course of action taken by the current pope can only speed up this process.

  • Rev. Anthony Cekada

    I’m sure Mr. Zmirak didn’t intend his article as such, but wow — what an indictment of Vatican II!

  • Amy

    Mr. Zmirak,

    I am curious to learn whether you walk the walk or just bark the talk. Do you and your wife volunteer with your parish or diocesan pre-Cana program? It is one thing to identify a problem, another to try and do something that might inspire real change in the life of one couple at a time. It is too facile to lay blame only at the feet of bishops and veiled homeschoolers. We are either part of the problem or part of the solution.

    I would encourage you and your readers to consider jumping in to the trenches (of marriage prep or CCD instruction) if you are not already there.

  • Frank Gibbons

    Mr. Royal,

    Your defense of Mr. Zimarik’s article misses the point. No one (at least not me) disagrees with the Catholic Thing’s freedom to publish a variety of viewpoints. However, as a Catholic journal, you’re obliged to at least maintain a tone of charity. If you engage in snark and mean-spirited language then what you’re offering is ultimately no different than what appears in Commonweal, NCR and a hundred other places that fail to advance the Gospel a single inch. Orthodoxy does not cover a multitude of sins.

  • Michael

    I liked this article. Our mens group is doing a theology of the body by C West program right now. We range in age. We all say that we never heard this stuff before and that it is very enlightening and important. Our difficulty is not only understanding it, but to explain it to our families is almost impossible. Articles like this regarding natural law and the new word for me, teleology, are helpful. I have found CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity a little easier for me to read. I appreciate you people out there who have such a great understanding and can communicate and challenge people like me. Thank you.

  • Esther

    Dear Bruno,
    I know the author personally, and I know that he is a strong supporter of the Latin Mass, and has long defended traditionalists from unfair attacks. Google him and you’ll see. I don’t read this piece as a blanket criticism of faithful Catholics. Note that he balanced each negative “type” he mentioned with a saintly or heroic counterpart. His point was something quite different–namely, that by losing the “rest of the umbrella,” the Church lost most of the “middling” people who make up any normal human society, and was left with more “extreme” types, BOTH good and bad. Why assume that the author lumped you in with the nasty cranks–when you clearly are not one? Instead, you are one of the people whom he probably wants to reach, who has suffered by association with people who are wrongly motivated, psychologically imbalanced, or otherwise “tares” among the wheat.

  • crusader

    “[S]elf-righteous bigots and Jew-baiting cranks?”

    “[S]elf-congratulating Pharisees who enjoyed being part of the ‘saving remnant?’ ”

    ” ‘[W]hite trash’ Catholics who used the Church’s teaching as a pretext for going on public assistance?”

    Really? Personally, I can think of no better use of taxpayer money than financing White Catholic families. The more “White trash” we have, the fewer Mestizos we need import. And you display your disdain for small, faithful Catholic colleges yet again. I have never seen a Catholic writer who enjoyed mocking the faithful as much as you, Mr. Zmirak.

  • jerry

    I read TCT daily, and I truely find this author spot=on as far as the mentality of a lot of the commentators who regularly comment here.
    The thing that truly gets to me is that many continue to blame VII as the the down fall of the internal Schism in the church as far as contraception is concerned.
    Now, let me tell you a story: in 1960, as a senior in a Catholic high school, I surveyed all 140+ soon-to-be grads as to if they were going to practice birth control when they married, and all but a handful said they that this was the course they would take.
    Guys, this process was well out the door before anything that Paul VI published in the mid-sixties.

  • cermak_rd

    If the problem is Humanae Vitae then isn’t the obvious solution to just accept that young people will wonder around a bit until their 50s then return to the Church when, frankly, HV no longer really matters all that much? Taking in a whole generation of post-menopausal couples should provide some bulk back to the umbrella.

  • Marie Dean

    Simple, the informed dissent of the clergy led to the informed dissent of the laity. Those who contracept are in mortal sin, and it is the duty of the baptized to being them back to the rational and spiritual arguments against the culture of death.

    Those of us who love and hold to Humanae Vitae must try our best pray for ways to explain real love in marriage.

    Thanks for this post.

  • Geoffrey Miller

    It’s a very mixed bag. And a small one. A good friend of mine who works for a major Catholic publisher reported to me the results of some very pricey market research his company undertook, to turn up the actual size of the “orthodox Catholic market.” Many thousands of dollars later, his company learned that if you count Catholics who go to Mass more than once a week, or spend a single dollar on Catholic books or other media, or volunteer for any parish activity, the grand total for the United States of America is no higher than 1.2 million.

    I call b.s. on this article and its statistics. The market for “orthodox” Catholic books is more like 36 million, at the very least. Otherwise, EWTN wouldn’t be a major network available pretty much everywhere and Barnes & Nobles wouldn’t have a whole row dedicated to Catholic stuff in Austin, TX, one of the 10 least religious cities in the entire nation. There’s also the fact that “orthodox” Catholics aren’t the only ones buying Catholic goods. Not by a long shot.

    And, it should go without saying, an expensive market research project is not “thousands of dollars.” It’s tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands, if not millions. Anything less, and you’re probably hiring crackpots.

    One commenter, Lauri Friesen, shares my exact thoughts after wading through Mr. Zmirak’s mess:

    “I did my best to struggle through this piece, out of respect for the editors of TCT, but [John’s] comments about “inbreeding” and “tares” when referring to Catholics who want to live as faithfully as possible once more convinced me to ignore anything with his name on it.”

    Mr. Zmirak. You’re blowing it. You had a good thing going with your books, and now you’re sliding off the very same deep end you’re claiming to decry.

  • David

    The Holy Father recently said that “the greatest sin today is that men have lost the sense of sin.” I believe the reason we have lost the sense of sin is that we have lost the sense of holiness. As G.K. Chesterton said, “Take away the supernatural and what remains is the unnatural.” I believe Maggie Gallagher is right. If the majority of Catholics no longer believe in the Real Presence, then we must begin there. What better way can there be for conveying the sacredness of the physical than understanding that we consume the very Body and Blood of Christ? And, yes, the liturgy has much to do with this. When Catholics knelt to receive the Eucharist directly from the hands of the priest, that could teach a reverence for the sacred to those Catholics who would never pick up a book of theology. We have largely discarded theology where most people can experience it, in the visible and physical things like church architecture or in the gestures at Mass, and we have confined it to books and lectures. Is it any wonder that most people don’t pay attention?

  • Sherry

    Have all Priests had education on Theology of the Body – or rather, Pope John Paul’s “Love and Responsibility” – either in the Seminary or in yearly training or on retreat?

  • Larry

    Wait just a minute. If I don’t go to church more than once a week, I’m not “orthodox”? Really? Is that what you’re really saying?

    Articles like this, and sites like this, which are loaded with the rantings of people that only seem to exist online – I’ve never ever met any of your ilk in person – do absolutely nothing for my faith. So, thanks for nothing.

  • Thaddeus

    Although this is certainly better, it’s hard to take Zmirak seriously after his absolutely ridiculous and scandalous screed “Illiberal Catholics.” Chris Ferrara’s “Liberty the God that Failed” is the definitive refutation of Zmirak’s errors about America and the Enlightenment, but one could also just read Leo XIII, not to mention John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Tracey Rowland and David Schindler, William Cavanaugh, Alasdair MacIntyre, Morris Berman, Claes Ryn–I could go on.

    Zmirak appears ashamed or embarrassed (what group of people is he trying to impress, exactly, one wonders) about particular teachings of the Catholic Church (Christ’s social and political kingship) and teachings of particular Popes (Leo XIII’s on politics and economics), considering these “illiberal.” He also appears to think that neoconservative ideology is a touchstone of sanity, morality, as well as Catholic orthodoxy.

    And he has the nerve to lecture others on what it means to be a sane, balanced, respectable, country-loving, high-culture, authentic Catholic American. Get your own house in order first, John.

  • Matt

    Interesting read as I just returned from a visit with a former-Catholic. He is in his mid 70s now. He went to Catholic grade school, Catholic High School, Catholic college. He left the Church in the early 80s but his heart really left in the late 60s. He is a “good” man in very many respects. Despite the Catholic culture he was surrounded in for all of his youth; how did he come to leaving the Church? How is it that his kids left the church as well?

    Did he leave over natural law objections or overly-pious people? Maybe pharisee-like parishioners or disagreement over contraception due to financial difficulties? Perhaps simple confusion on Transubstantiation or his disdain for the idea of a Remnant hinting at a level of predestination? Maybe it was that he was incapable of “understanding a complex intellectual argument”?

    No. It was much more fundamental than that. And it is this “root cause” that his other issues with the Church flows from. This good man does not believe in the existence of Satan.

    Mr. Zimark , that is the real elephant in the room. Solve that modern “belief” and you will bring back the “ordinary people”.

  • Kevin

    So we are to join the masses and throw away Catholic teaching so we don’t seem different, so we fit in, so we are approved of by the culture and the world.

    I’ll take the people who are trying to live the faith… can keep your culture of death with it’s sodomy, contraception, and abortion.

    Sure you can mock and lie about faithful Catholics all you want….we have seen what rejecting church teaching has done to the church

  • Aborted Father/Husband

    Although it is, directly, related to only a small part of this article by Mr. Zmirak, I expect to be a former Catholic by the end of this month due to the practices of the Catholic Church with respect to marriage.

    There is no room in the Catholic Church, any longer, for those of us whose spouses have abandoned us. They are more welcomed than we are in this horrible Catholic Church.

    I am not going to post anything following this single post, so I am not “looking for” and argument. This decision has been more then two decades coming of faithfully respecting the vows spoken more then theirty years ago, but violated, unceasingly for more then two decades.

    It is tearing me to shreds to leave the Catholic Church, as a cradle Catholic, but I cannot and will not stand with this Church any longer, in good conscience. I will join no other Church because all are guilty of even worse adultery.

    Francis has helped me come to this decision, but, honestly, it has been coming for many, many years. There is and was no help to heal our wounded marriage but endless acceptance of my wife and her adulterous partner, everywhere they have been. No more. Amen!

  • Esther

    Thaddeus J. Kozinski – “Thaddeus” (see above) – is a 9/11 “truther” who was banned from the comments section of “First Things” magazine for his crackpot opinions. It is sad that Wyoming Catholic College continues to employ this extremist, who responded to Zmirak’s piece “Illiberal Catholicism” on Aleteia with an anti-Semitic screed (see the comments section there). His presence in a prominent role within the subculture sadly confirms the worst fears Zmirak has expressed.

  • Marie Therese

    An interesting article with resultant perky – and wordy – debate. Being a teacher who necessarily resorts to reductionism: Isn’t contraception about TRUST? Do you trust God? Do you truly believe that He loves you and knows better than you when and how many children should be harbored within your family?

  • Chris in Maryland

    Here’s more on the poverty of “Catholic” education:

    On his blog, Matt Archbold relates his experiences searching for a quality Catholic high school for his daughter: “The first tour I went on, the first person the school had everyone meet was an elderly nun in a wheelchair. Nice woman. I’m still unsure what her responsibilities at the school were but she was very nice. Other than her I don’t think there was anything else there to indicate the school was Catholic at all except the crucifixes on the classroom walls. At one of the other schools where my daughter “shadowed,” a theology teacher showed “Frosty the Snowman” as a lesson on a Catholic understanding of friendship. You know, that might be ok for third graders but not high school.”

    So our Church teaches total junk in high school, such that, as Peter Kreeft reports, when you get to a Catholic college, “it stinks to high heaven.”

    Well, I guess Woody Allen was right – “If Jesus ever came back, he’d never stop throwing up.”

  • Joe O’Leary

    One of the cruelties of church teaching on contraception is that women were bullied in the confessional about not refusing their marital duty while men were simultaneously bullied about coitus interruptus (in pre-pill and pre-condom Ireland). The resultant unhappiness was to be “offered up” to the Lord. Remember John Paul II’s personal theologian, Carlo Caffarra, now Archbishop of Bologna, who urged women married to HIV-positive men that they should not refuse their marital duty, nor should they have recourse to prophylactics, but rather they should trust in Providence. Intransigence gives great moral satisfaction to clerical pharisees, but takes its toll on the defenseless.

  • Mr. Patton

    Contraception is about UNDERSTANDING about the human reproduction cycle, Marie. Faith is all about trust…:D

  • Sue

    Aborted Father/Husband,

    I sympathize. Christ died on the cross for His bride, and asks us to take up same cross. May you recognize the blessing of the cross, and the Church (with all her imperfect members), for the sake of your children.

  • Brendan J. McGuire

    The problem with this column–and with the “illiberal Catholics” column–is that Zmirak provides little more than a stream-of-consciousness rant against things that bother him. No evidence, no real specifics, no substantive solutions. Sweeping condemnations of everyone and anyone associated with the “subculture.” It’s really hard to pin down what he’s talking about, because he’s really just talking about his own frustrations. In the pre-internet age, this kind of rant would have been confined to his kitchen table. I’m particularly intrigued by his condemnation of “small Catholic colleges.” In the other column to which I refer, he claims to have had all sorts of interactions with extreme weirdos at small Catholic colleges. I am a professor at a small Catholic college, and I can tell you that weirdos are rarer, per capita, than they are at other colleges and universities. Of course they exist–you can always find weirdos at college, for heaven’s sake–but saying that he met some weirdos and then condemning an entire class of institutions is irresponsible at best. Small Catholic colleges are now doing the very thing that Marquette, Fordham, Georgetown, and Notre Dame used to do; the small scale is a reflection of the demographic realities that Zmirak mentions at the top of this column. Personally, I get the impression from these columns that he’s spending too much time in the subculture–of course it would get to you after a while. Actual engagement with the world beyond the subculture, where you find all the same problems and then some, would put some of this critique in perspective.

  • Rich in MN

    Dear Aborted Father/Husband,

    Please don’t leave Peter because of Judas. And I am not saying that Pope [fill in the blank] is one or the other. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said that the line between good and evil runs through the heart of every person. That is a profound insight. And we do not know why God puts terrible burdens on our shoulders. A large part of the fuel that stokes the fire of gay marriage is the notion that the Church is asking those with SSA to accept to heavy a cross, that the TRUE Church would be more compassionate, that God would never lay a cross like that on our shoulders. But God asked Hosea to marry a prostitute and, according to Catholic teaching, God asked Mary and Joseph to live celibate lives as a loving married couple dedicated to God. I cannot imagine that that did not have its challenges. I think you will find a number of examples in Church history where someone remained faithful to their marriage vow and faithful to the Church. And please remember to offer your suffering for the Church; do not let it go to waste. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “There is nothing more tragic than wasted suffering.”

    I will offer my prayers for you at Mass today.

    (Which reminds me — I’ve got to get to Church!!!)

  • bill bannon

    The issue of Humanae Vitae will remain in its present status until a Pope debates it in public on CNN against Protestants from the best theological departments in the world. The document style of encyclicals is over on touchy subjects and simply does not work on modern man who sees Presidents and CEO’s debate in public or submit themselves to tough not softball reporters. Then modern man sees Popes effectively seclude themselves from all debate after writing a document that causes a stir. The 5% will stay 5% a hundred years from now if Popes don’t debate in public like Christ did day after day. The seclusion is not based on Christ but on Euro royalty. Popes need to debate as Christ did. When they do, the percent will increase unless the Pope in question doesn’t know his material.

  • Chris in Maryland


    You hit the nail on the head with the bulimia analogy to contraception.

    In Christus Veritas

  • Kirsten

    This is great food for though. I consider myself a moderate orthodox Catholic. I dont wear a veil to mass or attend Latin mass (we dont have one offered) but I think we should bring back some of the mystical traditions of the church that were lost at Vat II. I love alter rails and singing in Latin. I dont like the “contemporary movement” in the church but I also dont want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Not sure where that puts me. My question is in regard to a comment in the article when he stated “A shocking number of self-consciously orthodox Catholics whom I have encountered, most of them graduates of small, fervently Catholic colleges, take advantage of food stamps and Medicaid, while patting themselves on the back for being “counter-cultural” at their neighbors’ expense.” I have three children, one with down syndrome. I home school my kids b/c I think its whats best for their spiritual growth. My husband and I are contemplating getting our children on the state children’s health plan b/c we simply cant afford health insurance for us all these days. I pay into the system and have since I first began to work. Am I not supposed to accept state aide for health insurance? Does that make me a bad orthodox or a hypocrit? I am not sure where that puts me. Also, I would love to have more kids but considering we are contemplating state assistance, are more kids out of the question? I am not sure what the author is suggesting? We do want bigger families but we cannot accept state assistance? How can that be done unless the primary income provider is in a “golden goose” paying job? Should only those people have several kids and us “poorer” folk keep it to a minimum? I ask this with the utmost desire to know or understand the mind of the author and know what popular opinion of accepted orthodoxy would dictate?

  • Brian

    I love the Church, and I’m trying to love Pope Francis. But Pope Francis seems to have declared open season on faithful, orthodox and especially traditional Catholics. Some commentators seem to have taken up the sport of hunting faithful, orthodox and traditional Catholics with glee, entering the field with both barrels blazing. I find that disheartening and terribly disconcerting.

  • Steady State

    Everybody’s probably right to some extent. Here’s my idea. First, before the Church can be influential in contraceptive debate, She needs to develop credibility in the sexual marketplace. The best way to do this today, I think, is to focus heavily and promote a strong sexual dimorphism and power differential that favors men. That will tap into, and redeem, the gut level appeal of “50 Shades of Grey.” Men and women both want that power differential, but we’re stuck with the theology of the body and the JPII anti-fun “gender” “equality” ideas of feminism. Instead prominent leaders in the Church are still trying to prove their feminist cred and that the Church doesn’t hate and oppress women. We need to control the frame but we’re just basically givin it away and arguing according to their frame.

  • David Brandt

    The following aspects and beliefs of our current culture are a direct result of the normalization of artificial contraception-
    Sewing Wild Oats
    Shacking up
    Sha la la la la la live for today
    Move in with him, than try to get him to marry you
    Hooking up
    Expected sex on prom night
    Co-Ed dorms
    Mardi gras flashing
    Female pride in participating in pornography
    Whores are now sex workers
    Sexual Double standards are now wrong
    Sex “education”
    Sexual teenage entitlement
    Pre-north infanticide
    The spread of vine rial disease
    “Smart” sex
    The corination of single mothers
    The drop in achievement drive in young males
    The list just goes on
    The solution: what used to be taught in pre-Cana must now be taught in youth ministry.

  • Rich in MN

    Dear Aborted Father/Husband,

    Today’s Mass (in which I was praying for you) took a rather “interesting” turn. The priest read the shorter Gospel reading which stops at Luke 2:32. HOWEVER, then he begins his homily by saying, “In the Gospel reading for today, in the next verses, Simeon tells Mary that a sword will pierce her heart.” (Why did the priest not just read the longer reading? I don’t know!! Maybe he did not want to get into a big psyche/kardia discussion???) Then the priest goes on to talk about suffering in OUR lives. In trying to explore thinking about God’s role (as much as we finite creatures can possibly understand God), he offered some of the standard analogies to human parenthood, e.g., needing to allow children to face difficulties for some higher purpose the children cannot currently understand. But the priest ultimately spoke of how any loving parents do well when the children do well and suffer when the children suffer. God is the quintessential loving Father and, as Sue mentions above, Jesus is the quintessential loving sibling. Even when we feel alone, we are never alone. Never.

  • Kate

    Incredibly shallow, offensive, and poorly written.

    Please. This is the kiddie pool AGAIN.

    Stop complaining in an echo chamber and go outside and share Christ’s love with someone.

    I’m sick to death with the complaints. Take action– love!

    True love finds it’s best self in the teachings of the Catholic Church, so relax. Share love and truth in hope–in word and deed.

    Didn’t you ever hear of the difference between vinegar and honey?

  • Paul

    Interesting article, it sums up the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to the HRCC IMO.

    I find it strange that you’re a heretic if you disagree with some of the official doctrines of the HRCC even if some of those doctrines don’t even appear in the Bible. Your even a heretic in some cases if you follow the Bible (eg. celebrating Nisan 14). However, I do agree that the HRCC has the right to excommunicate anyone they want. Perhaps it would be best for everybody if the “bad” Catholics left or were excommunicated by the “good” Catholics.

    I was just studying Judaism to better understand my Christian faith. In one video, the Rabbi mentioned (this is from memory so my figures could be wrong but the trend is correct as he stated) 50% of Jews, 80% of Roman Catholics and 95% of Protestants believe in God. The Rabbi was using this info to prove another point but I found it quite interesting that from his point of view the further away from his truth the more that the people believed in God.

    I guess it’s all about POV. Next time you hear the story of the Prodigal Son, if you haven’t done it already, imagine yourself as the “good son” instead of the prodigal son. It puts a whole new twist on the story.

    God Bless,


  • Joseph

    Terrible piece. Shameful even.

    Its easy for the simple minded to beat up on trads again under the new pope, so that isn’t surprising. What is astonishing is the attack on the colleges that still cling to a genuine vision of Catholic education. I suppose the author prefers Georgetown and its secularism?

    Also, the attack on the poor was shocking and uncharitable. It’s difficult to find good jobs in America today because corporate America has exported most of them. And the establishment, with the aid of the useful idiots in the Church, has kept wages stagnant for the remaining jobs by importing millions of workers from Latin America. Taking welfare benefits is a rational economic choice for many working class and poor people. You want to get people off welfare? Stop exporting jobs and importing cheap labor – probably not something the author finds palatable and its much easier to call his fellow Catholics ‘white trash’.

  • Rouxfus

    God permits that all powers be opposed to the preachers of truth, so that its victory cannot be attributed to anyone except to divine grace. Too often it happens that those members, who are united to the Church more holily and more strictly, are looked down upon, and treated as if they were unworthy of being in the Church, or as if they were separated from Her; but, “the just man liveth by faith” (Romans 1:17), and not by the opinion of men. [Clement XI, Unigenitus, #96-7]

  • Paul


    Acts 15:5-11

  • Julie

    Bravo! As a homeschooler with a large family, I have sought community with those whom I considered to be like-minded. What I have found instead, is that the more “orthodox” & “churchy” folks are, the more self-rightous & emotionally unhealthy they are, too. I have often wondered why I can’t find many people who are enthusiastic about their faith, but who are also loving & kind. Your explanation of the small percentage of people that make up this group makes perfect sense.

  • K in BC

    Many of the 95% of Catholics find Humanae Vitae unreasonable.
    Since Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI preached on the coexistence of faith and reason, why do Catholics need to check their coats at the door on this doctrine?
    Firstly, they argue that if you are not open to human life during intimacy, then it makes no difference if the mechanism is artificial contraception or natural family planning.
    This means that every sexual act should aim to be fruitful.
    Allowing NFP is a loop-hole for so-called orthodox Catholics – the 5%.
    Second, if you are against abortion, surely you would prefer that people practice either abstinence, or failing that, contraception, rather than the horror of abortion?

    Hopefully Pope Francis will look at Humanae Vitae in the light of charity rather than hard-line orthodoxy. This doctrine is such a stumbling block on Catholic unity, that it needs to be addressed.

  • Guest

    Zmirak upset all the crybabies.

  • sjm

    A house divided against itself…

  • Janet O’Connor

    I agree with many of the posters on this blog like I have at other sites. STOP ALL NAMECALLING period. We are all simply Catholic Christians are we not? Did Pope Francis himself keep saying to stop killing people with their tongues. Sad to say however Francis won’t follow his own advice and calls names himself. We did not see this type of behavior on blogs when Benedict was still Pope. It started after the election of Francis and it needs to stop because it is making us a laughingstock among non Catholics. I do however agree that the Council was not well implemented and the Documents were tweaked. But enough with the Hateful talk. Polemics are more like it. We need to accept differences in opinion or style but without name calling.

  • David Brandt 2

    The factual pretext for this article rests upon a single study, whose source, sampling techniques, etc. are entirely unknown, reported to the author by his close personal friend. It is pretty thin. That Zmirak has descended from making a living by having a humorous take on Catholicism lived in the contemporary world to making a living by pulling or even punching the noses of orthodox American Catholics is a great pity. Zmirak, Mark Shea, and the world at large would be in better shape if Zmirak and Shea were sentenced to sharing a canoe in a no-Internet around-the-world canoe paddle. Instead, Zmirak has found yet another Catholic outlet whose status he can with savage joy diminish. I think less of Bob Royal for first publishing and then defending this piece. Please, please, especially if it were true that there were only 1.2 million of us, stop running Zmiraks and Sheas. They shock-schlock one’s page views momentarily upward, but they are anti-evangelists. So far only one soul has announced itself to be lost due to this piece. The actual numbers are necessarily higher. (NB: I am not the David Brandt who posted earlier. Fwiw.)

  • Matthew

    “white trash” Catholics … (A shocking number of self-consciously orthodox Catholics whom I have encountered, most of them graduates of small, fervently Catholic colleges, take advantage of food stamps and Medicaid, while patting themselves on the back for being “counter-cultural” at their neighbors’ expense.)

    Mr. Zmirak has trotted out this bizarre strawman in several forums recently. The breathless ‘would just believe it!!’ tone does little to persuade. I can only imagine what sort of hypnotizing effect he has in person, but — isn’t a it a bit amazing to imagine the Scourge of Shameless Hyper-Fertile Papist Moochers throwing themselves at him, taunting him with their EBT cards?

    I can see it, sure. You have the garden variety Catholic father of seven. Since his kids are all well-fed and pampered with free medical care, this father has some money to spare. He travels to New York and happens upon Zmirak’s favorite bar. They order a couple of Scotches, and as the liquor flows, the Catholic Father starts bragging. It is only then that the full horror is made clear to poor Zmirak. “AGAIN!!! Those damnable Catholic Moochers!!!” He hurries home, far from his scandalous new friend, and quietly weeps as he writes another snotty, poisonous little article for yet another Catholic publisher who should know better.

  • Deacon Ed Peitler

    “We need to stop treating people who don’t “get” the Church’s teaching on contraception as if they were clones of Judas, or heretics like Arius whom St. Nicholas rightly slapped.”

    Here’s where you’re really off the mark. In point of fact, NO ONE – yes, no one – has gotten treated like Judas because of their contraceptive practices. The Church stopped teaching about the sinfulness of contraception (would you believe) around 1968.

    I am glad you cite “What You Can’t Not Know.” The point of the book is that all these dissenters against Church teachings about abortion and contraception have actually tunred their backs on the natural law which is written on the hearts of all humans with rational faculties. What you miss about defiance of Church teachings is that since the 60’s, our culture has become one of disobedience to authority. I know; I came of age in the late 60’s when any authority outside of oneself became anathema. This time it wasn’t the Church who was doing the anathematizing, it was laymen and women who rejected God’s authority. How so much of human history is replete with this theme of disobedience.

    You also miss out on this other reality: it’s not only Catholics who have rejected the natural law and what it says about abortion and contraception. It is everyone belonging to the human race. And, yet, because the Catholic Church has stood as a firm ally with the natural law, those who have come to see its truths have also been attracted to the Church and saw fit to become part one of Her members. There have been scores of converts who have taken this path toward the truth. The Church stands as a beacon for all these.

    Another essential aspect you have left out of your analysis is this one: the Church is under the watchful custody of the Holy Spirit. You ought not fret so much and treat the Church as if she were just another NGO which is something worth noting that Francis HAS said. I am getting increasingly impatient with a Church that is too damn sensitive to public opinion polls, marketing research and strategies, and statistical charts. That stuff might work for corporate America but God’s kingdom occupies a place that is quite different. That Francis is Time magazine’s ‘Man of the Year’ I find laughable and pity those who take it seriously.

  • Matt

    I think the key is that we need to emphasize God’s love, and that His commandments are not there to restrict us, but rather they are the for our good and to set us up for living happy lives, not only in the life to come but right here and now. God wants to liberate us, not restrict us.

    Many of us punish our bodies to train for marathons, and/or eat restrictive diets for (supposedly) better health. Why not also control our sexual passions as well? That seems to be the ingredient modern culture has left out.

  • Chris in Maryland

    Deacon Ed:

    Exactly right: “it wasn’t the Church who was doing the anathematizing, it was laymen and women who rejected God’s authority.”

  • Mater

    Some really good points here, that unfortunately, get off track with both the name calling, and the generally pessimistic attitude.
    Maybe we aren’t exactly yeast, but we are “starter”, that mix of yeast and dough that sits for a while getting really yeasty and frankly quite disgusting looking until the baker mixes us with wheat again. God is the baker, and his dough (the Church) will rise again.
    Don’t worry! Times really are changing. Attitudes are changing on abortion, and I see a shift on contraception as well. We must 1) obey 2) love 3) spread the word.

  • stephen ryan

    Great article… But I disagree with the elephant in the room.
    Most Catholics who take birth control know they are committing a sin. They also know they will stop using birth control at some point in their life – say over fifty – then they will confess thier sins and be right with the Church. Kind on like death bed confessions.. You can still get your ticket punched to heaven.

  • bill bannon

    Deacon Ed Peitler,
    You’d have to explain though why two periti from Vatican II also dissented from Humanae Vitae while going uncensured by every Pope after 1968. Popes since 1968 did not censure or even restrict to pre-censorship both internationally known Fr. Karl Rahner ( peritus at Vatican II on Lumen Gentium) and Fr. Bernard Haring ( peritus at Vatican II on Gaudium et Spes) both of whom dissented on Humanae Vitae and urged laity to follow a sincere prayerful conscience attended by reading. Pope John Paul II had 15 years in which to censure Karl Rahner and did nothing. Pope John Paul II had 19 years in which to censure Bernard Haring but investigated him for one year at which point the CDF dropped the investigation which involved other mattters anyway.
    John brings up Curran but all these essays do. Curran was small in stature and had a pan laxism for which he was dechaired from Catholic teaching. Rahner was internationally known, published, and edited the Enchiridion Symbolorum at one time…which ascertains authority nuances of issues.
    In short, two prominent theologians did not see HV as clearly on the side of natural law or tradition. And Humanae Vitae was introduced at its press conference by Msgr. Lambrushini as not infallible per se…easily googled. What were educated Catholics to think as both Rahner and Haring
    went uncensured about an encyclical that was introduced as non infallible?
    St. Alphonsus in his Theologia Moralis had noted that the natural law is not always obvious to even the saints once one leaves the obvious issues like theft and adultery and goes to issues the Church’s saints differed on like slavery and usury. In fact if you polled Bishops right now and pressed them as to what interest rate constitutes usury, I suspect their and the Pope’s answers would be all over the map.
    How did great theologians deal with the tradition? Several of the early saints saw sexual relations as only for procreation…only for procreation ….which is not the position of I Corinthians 7:5 but of Late Stoicism: it was that of Jerome who brags of reading Seneca on marriage matters, it was that of St.Clement of Alexandria, Lactantius, and St. Epiphanius. In other words early witnesses were against contraception but also against what the modern Popes permit….that sex, as I Cor. 7:5 implies, has other functions. Here is the Stoic Musonius Rufus: ” Lecture XII-2: ” Men who are not wantons or immoral are bound to consider sexual intercourse justified only when it occurs in marriage and is indulged in for the purpose of begetting children, since that is lawful, but unjust and unlawful when it is mere pleasure-seeking, even in marriage.”. Saint after saint repeats this and it is rejected now by the Church. Think of when the biblical canon was settled. The early saints may not have had copies of I Corinthians readily at hand and if they did, they were not yet as obliged as you and I to clearly see it as coming from the Holy Spirit. Here’s I Corinthians 7:5…” Do not deprive one another unless perhaps by mutual consent for a time, to devote yourselves to prayer…then return to one another, that satan might not tempt you through your lack of self control.”. Later Paul addresses an entirely separate group who are not as sexual as the group in the early verses and he implies that the less sexual group can take or leave marriage in verse 28 but the early group should marry…verse 9. Early saints thoughmay not have honored I Cor.7:5 as much as they did the Stoicism they were competing with which did not agree with I Cor.7:5. Fr. Bernard Haring’s pivot point was precisely I Corinthians which doesn’t mention procreation but is about married sex saving some not all from fornication. Stoicism from Musonius Rufus was really about the verse 28 people of I Corinthians who could take or leave marriage on the sexual level with no harm.

  • Allan Cheung

    Wow! Mr. Bannon goes on at length about nothing. Humanae Vitae confirmed Church teaching about sexual matters. Lots of people dissented. That’s yesterday’s news. But about 99% of Catholics never heard then (and certainly never read) of either Rahner or Haring, and neither of them looms large today. But Humane Vitae. But, gosh, it sure is nice to now know the views of Musonius Rufus . . .

  • bill bannon

    You have a low opinion of Catholic literacy.

  • Allan Cheung

    No, Mr. Bannon, I have a high opinion of reality. Besides, Catholicism is not the faith of the scribes.

  • Phyllis Poole

    I haven’t time to read all the comments so might repeat one or two.
    I believe the church’s teaching is too complicated. The real fact is there are two parts to the human, a body and a soul. If we please the body too much for living on the earth, we then relegate our soul to hell. The only way to make straight the path to heaven for our soul is to conform the body to the demands of God for it. If more is taught about what hell is like, it would be easier to make decisions for our soul’s end.
    Too much emphasis is made on making life easy for our bodies!!!

  • Sue

    ” Men who are not wantons or immoral are bound to consider sexual intercourse justified only when it occurs in marriage and is indulged in for the purpose of begetting children, since that is lawful, but unjust and unlawful when it is mere pleasure-seeking, even in marriage.”. Saint after saint repeats this and it is rejected now by the Church. ”

    No, this viewpoint is not now rejected by the Church. *Mere* pleasure-seeking sex *is* swatted down by HV. It must also be open to procreation.

    Elephant in the Room is the eugenics-industrial complex that was built to drown out the Church’s teachings on sexuality through mass media externally, and internally by the muting of the pastors. Contraception was only the the start of the juggernaut, but the engulfment of the Church’s teachings snowballed to divorce, test-tube conception, and homosexual “marriage”.

    I won’t dwell on who built this complex because it was not only the work (and to some extent “collusion”) of many, but to avoid the tinfoil crowning any whistleblower can expect. It is unjust, however, in fearing the tinfoil, to turn around and name/shame those innocents who stand *with* the Church’s teachings, even if it is extremely difficult to do or understand.

  • bill bannon

    Cite HV exactly wherein it forbids during the known infertile days…pleasure as predominant.

  • Phil Steinacker


    Your reasoning is shallow and demonstrates ignorance of principle salient factors which destroyed Catholics’ understanding of natural law, Church law, and most importantly, God’s own law.

    While accurate as far as it goes, the percentage of today’s Catholics who’ve read Rahner or Haring is completely irrelevant. What is relevant is the large number of priests and bishops who, following the release of HV, did read them or articles by others who explicated their evisceration of HV and prior Church teaching it affirmed.

    By the early 70s I was routinely encountering Catholics who glibly informed me that had pronounced contraception as OK; that is, no longer sinful. In response to my own reaffirmation of Church prohibition of contraception as unchangeable, these Catholics repeatedly cited a priest in the confessional who stated that contraception was a matter left to their own conscience.

    Rahner, Haring, and later other American Catholic “theologians” like John Courtney Murray who provided Catholic politicians like the Kennedys and their pseudo-Catholic progeny (i.e. Nancy Pelosi, Mario Cuomo & son, Joe Biden, etc.), profoundly influenced these heterodox clergy to falsely advise Catholics that it was now open season to sin as they like.

    Most probably never read the actual works by these men but got the word in articles advancing their arguments and in discussions with those who had read those works.

    Bannon is exactly correct and you, sir, are entirely wrong.

    God bless you anyway.

  • Sue

    There is no such thing as a 100 percent “known” infertile day – even Abraham’s Sarah got pregnant, remember? We may, for serious reasons, attempt to “guess” fertility via nfp, but there’s no guaranteed (except abstinence) and we are not to employ any means of blocking fertility.

  • Guest

    Allan Cheung is exactly correct. Who is the authority in this issue? The so called theologians or the pope?

  • Titus

    Good grief.

    Let us lay aside for a moment the commentary on the merits of the Church’s teaching. I am not entirely sure why a debate has developed on the content of what is a very clear teaching.

    The real issue, the main thrust of Mr. Zmirak’s piece, is what he feels to be wrong with the rest of us. I am sure that, somewhere, the people he describes (be they “white trash Catholics” or “Jew-baiting cranks”) exist. I must confess, however, that I don’t know any of them. Mr. Zmirak appears to prefer a subculture of traditionalist-baiting polemicists.

    Nor do I know what in the world has gotten under Mr. Zmirak’s skin. His recent essays in various fora have relied heavily on the sort of name-calling on display here. If he wants us all to pull out the long knives for certain institutions, groups, or individuals, then let him be specific.

    This practice of making veiled references and vague accusations is cowardly and disgraceful. The ambiguous, slapdash character of the barbs Mr. Zmirak throws makes them even more of a disgrace than the mere spectacle of trying to start an internecine flame war is by itself. (And one does not call another Catholic, even a nameless other Catholic, a “Jew-baiting crank[]” out of a spirit of fraternal correction.)

    I have enjoyed Mr. Zmirak’s essays and books in the past. But where has the author of Wine, Whiskey and Song gone? He is not the man who wrote this diatribe.

    Finally, on the final thesis, that we just need to start talking about the natural law: where has Mr. Zmirak been for the last thirty years? Orthodox Catholics never stopped talking about Aristotle, St. Thomas, and the dictates of the natural law. I’m sure Mr. Budziszewski’s book is a fine summary of natural-law thinking, but it’s not exactly the first modern book on the topic.

  • bill bannon

    Do you know of any post menopausal births after the Bible closes? I believe with Augustine I think it was that they were meant by God to prepare the Jews for an even greater miracle….the virgin birth.
    That being done, why would they happen again.
    But while there was a recent delayed menopausal birth in our time, I don’t think you will find the Sarah event after scripture closes. But the Church allows the elderly to marry and none of them are realistically open to procreation because of a biblical phenomenon.

  • Steady State

    The whole point of the article is how can we be rhetorically effective with the 95% of Catholics who basically don’t care about syllogisms or Church documents. He identifies contraception as the main commonality among those who dissent and tries to come up with a way to convince that 95% to come down on the Catholic side of that watershed doctrine. We need to be more creative.

  • Thomas Gallagher

    It is hard to know where to begin in responding to Mr. Zmirak’s intemperate and utterly confused piece. How does he know that only 5% of Catholics are the real, genuine Orthodox ones? What justification is there for attributing the decline in support for the Church’s teachings, generally, to the decline in support for the one teaching on contraception? Mr. Zmirak seems unaware of an important theological concept: the concept of the sensus fidelium in the Church. This sensus is a sense of Faith, Faith that finds an echo deep, deep in the hearts of the faithful. A teaching need not convince the majority in order to be seen as finding an echo in Christian hearts, but it does need to go deep. The Church’s teaching on abortion finds an echo, a powerful one, deep in the hearts of the faithful. So too her teaching on the ordination of women, so too on capital punishment, so too on homosexuality. So too her teaching on divorce, if, as I suspect we ought to do, we eliminate those who have a vested, selfish interest in the outcome of a relaxation of rules on the reception of the Sacraments by divorced persons. There is, I argue, no consensus, no sensus fidelium, on the reservation of priestly ordination to celibate men, and no sensus at all on contraception–the one teaching of the Magisterium, in my long lifetime, that has found little or no support among the faithful. If, as Blessed John Henry Newman argued, a teaching finds no echo in the hearts of the faithful, then we can be fairly sure it is not an authentic teaching. Has the Church ever reversed herself on a major teaching? Yes, reversed herself on capital punishment, reversed herself on the morality of charging interest on money, reversed herself on the fate of the souls of unbaptized infant children. She can make a reversal on contraception, and the sooner the better.

  • Martin Brennick

    There has been hardly a peep, concerning Humanae Vitae, from the hierarchy that passed through to the diocesan priest level since 1968. JPII’s Theology of the Body being the exception, which has not filtered down to the parish level in my experience.Yet here comes John Zmirak with an indictment (not of the hierarchy) but of the benighted “trad Catholic” subculture. The “subculture” actually implementing Humanae Vitae and the “Theology of the Body”. Zmirak demands that they find a way to become trendy and stylish enough to communicate to the obtuse contracepting Catholic in the pews. This is pure bosh on Zmirak’s part. Those unwashed and somehat slightly dazed trads are not in charge of the USCCB, the chanceries, the nominally Catholic universities, the Catholic media. Sorry John smearing trad Catholics isn’t going to do the trick. How are you going to move the hierarchy????

  • RW Cross

    Mr Zmirak, the problem of birth control is not as much an intellectual problem, though it is that, it is mainly a problem of habit. Deeply entrenched habits are always hard to change, and sexual habits are exceptionally hard to change, or even entertain an argument to change, no matter how brilliant, simple, and clearly reasoned. Arguments can be clear, and simple; that does not make them easy. Behavior change of sexual habits usually involves a very deep emotional discomfort, that forces the person to consider an option to change. Guilt is one such emotion, fear of loss is another. Fear of hell too, but most people don’t fear hell anymore.

  • eddie too

    a person can be open to procreation when engaging in human sexual intercourse without being physically able to procreate.

    marriage is about a relationship designed for the granting of grace and the salvation of souls.

    openness is not a synonym for possessing the abilty.

    pleasure is not intended to be the predominant factor when engaging in sexual intercourse.

    strengthening the marital relationship is a perfectly acceptable reason for engaging in sexual intercourse during times of periodic infertility.

    pleasuring oneself as a primary reason is not acceptable.

  • debby

    dear Aborted Husband/Father,
    since reading your comment on Saturday you have been often on my mind. i have offered my Holy Communions for you to come to know the All-Suffering, All-Healing, All-Boundless Love of God for you.
    regardless of what any one else in the whole wide world does or says, God loves you and will never leave you.
    never let anyone steal that away from you.
    i might humbly recommend that you write to a man named Brother Simeon. he is (i believe still) living at the Trappist Monastery in Spencer, MASS. prior to his taking the cowl, he was known as Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis- a married man with many children, a college professor who wrote a Profound book on love (Love’s Sacred Order) which he dedicated to his then wife. she left him. i don’t know anyone else who may impart the tender light your broken heart needs from a place of brotherhood as quite possibly he may.
    God’s Cross never leaves us in the dark tomb of the dead.
    i pray His Resurrection come quickly to you.

  • linred

    Thomas Gallagher, Thank you for your carefully worded response. I couldn’t agree more, and I could not have said it any better. Right on!!!

  • Sherry

    In terms of the “elephant in the room”, one of the best analyses I have seen was done by Gabriele Kuby, a German sociologist. There is a really good interview with her done by “Catholic World Report” about her conversion, the global sexual revolution, freedom, family, and faith.

    In terms of an excellent resource to help deal with the “elephant in the room”, there is a skinny, 113 page study guide to John Paul II’s Theology of the Body by Dr. Mary Healy. The book is called “Men & Women Are From Eden”.

    It goes from original and fallen humanity to redeemed and glorified humanity – and marriage with its sacramentality, mystery and fruitfulness. It addresses everything from the Song of Songs to Humanae Vitae to reproductive technologies and euthanasia. It ends with ideas for building a culture of life.

    I used this study guide for a nine-week “spiritual development group” in our condo building. Our group comprised practicing Catholics, “cafeteria Catholics”, non-practicing Catholics, and Protestants. Interestingly enough, the latter group was the most appreciative, though everyone (all 14 of us) showed up for almost every session and really seemed to appreciate the opportunity to see a “bigger picture”.

  • UltraMontane

    yes, I agree the orthodox segment of the catholic population might be quite small, but I disagree about the insulting qualities ascribed to them. I have found orthodox catholic blogs well-written and among the best the internet has to offer.

  • Anne

    I came to read this article as an evangelical Protestant who appreciates much of what I read in conservative Catholic thought. I am thankful for this thoughtful piece. I was a bit disappointed by the tone and appearent character of many of the comments. It does seem that many traditional Catholics are an odd and angry bunch who don’t seem to speak to those beyond their own fold often. If they did they would surely have gained the humility to behave in a more Christ like fashion.

  • Stanley Anderson

    Reader of the Editor’s Note’s Note: If you’re a regular reader of this site, you may notice today that the comments section of this article is longer than usual. Brevity is part of our charism at The Catholic Thing. But we’ve been feeling from time to time that we need an occasional longer Comments section to deal adequately with some subjects. So you may occasionally see us – on a Saturday – in a new, longer format. No worries though, for all but a very few days a year, TCT will be the same reliable source of commentary and news you’ve come to expect. – Reader and sometime commenter Stanley Anderson

  • Zach Foreman

    ” I don’t buy that argument; a Catholic with such a conscience, who believed that he was regularly committing a mortal sin, would know enough to avoid Holy Communion.”

    This assumes a) that the Catholic has a proper understanding of mortal sin, b) that the Catholic understands that communion should not be received unworthily and c) that a large number of the 95% are actively contracepting.

    With the evidence from the previous paragraph supporting the proposition that Catholics are ill-catechized the first two assumptions are dubious, to say the least. We could test this by pondering how many people engaging in sexual activity outside of the marital bond also receive communion. Does this not inconsiderable number show that they don’t think that fornication is sinful? Perhaps, but perhaps they think that it isn’t that bad or that God forgives or that communion is symbolic of community and, since everyone sins, what’s the big deal?
    Finally, the statistics are not as illuminating as they might be. This Gallup poll says that 82% of Catholics approve of contraception:
    But this is self-identified Catholics, the percent of Catholics who regularly receive communion and accept contraception is surely lower, probably under 75%, perhaps under 60% (we really don’t know since only about 25% of self-identified Catholics say they attend Mass weekly or more often).
    His argument hinges on the 95% but that number is a murky one and probably wrong.

  • Tom ATK

    There may be a middle ground for contraception, without changing any of the Church teaching. One possible first step is to convert the pro-abortion/pro-contraception camp, into the pro-life camp, even if they still hold pro-contraception views. Doing this could save millions of babies in utero. The way to do this is to teach the concept that when birth control fails, as it will eventually in a significant number of people, no matter what BC method they use, that they keep the child. This is the attitude used in NFP. In other words, teach that artificial contraception is a sin, but that abortion is murder.
    Otherwise it will be much harder to decrease the still tragically high numbers of abortions, as over ½ million abortions in the US are performed because birth control failed, and ½ million did not use birth control.
    If one has to chose battles, abortion is the one to work on first.

  • Karly

    When the Roman Church recants of its man-imposed catechism and seeks only to preach from the inspired word of God, more people might listen to them. Papal infallibility is not scriptural, nor is the Pope’s role at all. I know the RCC believes that Jesus declared Peter to be the first pope according to Matthew 16:18. And I also know that I’ve never met a Catholic who has any idea what that section really means, other than what they’ve been fed by their hierarchy.

    The RCC has some non-biblical ideal of contraception and yet they’re unwilling and unable to raise and financially support all the offspring of their followers. So, the government has to. To give nod to the separation of Church and State, I believe we have a problem here.

    If the RCC feels it has the “right” to demand propagation in the name of Christ, then it needs to follow through and help all these families support all these children. If they’re going to pull one Old Covenant verse and declare it New Covenant doctrine, not only are they treading where they ought not, they have to open their eyes to the consequences. Telling a married couple to not have sex if they don’t want more children is like telling the ocean to stop moving so we don’t have to worry about beach erosion. It’s asinine. I’m glad the RCC thinks NFP is a viable option for “controlling births”… but I will tell you right now that it will not always work for people. Every woman’s reproductive cycles are not cookie-cutter predictable. To have something like this decreed by a bunch of celibate men is also asinine.

    I may sound like a left-wing nut job to you… but, in all actuality, I consider myself infinitely *more* conservative than the Roman Church. Why? Because I believe in exegetical Biblical study, and Biblical text only. I believe in context when interpreting scripture. And I believe that no mortal man on this planet is any “more holy” than myself. Every person is a sinner. Every one. And mortal man does not get to ensnare others with a new book of religious laws after God wiped the slate clean with Jesus. There is freedom in Christ, but no freedom in Catholicism. It breaks my heart.

    Oh, and I was raised in the RCC, went to Catholic School for 9 years, and finally read a Bible when I was 18. I didn’t know much then except that the RCC is in direct contradiction with New Testament teaching. Now I know much, much more and I am pained at the thought of the blind continuing to lead the blind.

  • SanFran

    What I never understand from these orthodox writers–why is it that the political alliance with the GOP is not regarded as equally heretical, given that party’s noted preferential option for the wealthy?

    Oh, and everyone should note the quote from NationalOrganizationfor Marriage’s Maggie Gallagher, saying gay marriage, “is now the dividing line in public culture between good people and bad people.”

    Bad people? Really? What is Christian about this little piece of political propaganda?

  • Suzanne

    There are too many conservative/libertarian types who take aim at the people who are forced onto public assistance, rather than coming up with AND PERSONALLY WORKING ON tenable alternatives to help those in financial need. People who call their brothers and sisters in Christ “Catholic white trash” do not inspire any hope that they’re eager to help those in need. The answer for families in dire straights is not, “well, limit your children.” The only acceptable response from a fellow Catholic is “how can I help?”

    Is it a moral responsibility for every Catholic man to pursue a high-paying career? Because Zmirak isn’t even talking about men who decided they’re going to stay home and play video games with their kids, he’s addressing Catholic men who are working for the Church! And, no doubt, working long hours and weekends. Sure, one must use prudence in the job hunt, but sometimes a man’s skills limit his vocational possibilities.

    And, regardless, it’s dang hard for ANY family to live on one paycheck because of how prices for everything are driven up by the dual-income economy. Would Zmirak think it better for moms to leave their babies and go to work, so our families stop “stealing” out of his pocket? The enormous welfare state we’re living in is definitely problematic and can enable dependency. But the State is now the only place people in need can turn to when they truly need help. That’s not their fault.

    And, I would dang well rather my tax money go to large Catholic families where Dad is working a low-wage job to promote Catholic culture than to Planned Parenthood, the National Endowment for the Arts, Public radio, Public television, and just about any endeavor the Obama admin would wish to support financially, domestically and overseas.

  • Suzanne

    One last point: Single men simply should not advise on NFP. No one is *required* by the Church to limit their family size — ever. No. Matter. What. We may, not *must* use NFP to limit children. And, sometimes couples attempting to avoid pregnancy conceive. If our attitude is that certain families need to limit children, we end up judging very private family matters and private situations to which we are not privy when so-and-so has had ANOTHER kid.

  • Stephen

    Well, SanFran, ask the active proponents of “gay” “marriage” if those who disagree with them are “bad people.” A high percentage will say yes, which we can estimate since the common argument (which sadly made it into the recent Supreme Court ruling) is that those who support traditional marriage are motivated by “hatred.”

    The most judgmental person in the US today is the gay activist, who feels free to condemn anyone who disagrees, and will find no rebuke among the heights of respectable society.

    And please demonstrate the “political alliance” with the GOP, and be specific. If it goes beyond any couple of issues, then it is an alliance, otherwise it is the Church doing what she must do, which is engage those with power on the moral questions of the day.

  • Layman Tom

    Holy Smokes! Say what you want, but this guy can sure write a thought-provoking article. I cannot remember another piece that generated 111 responses. So, in my book: job well done.

    I am obviously not as fluent in theology and doctrine as many of you guys, but perhaps that ignorance allows me the liberty to blow off the supposed barbs and insults and just look at the parts that actually scare me. To wit, if there are only 5% of our church who remain doctrinally orthodox, how are we supposed to maintain the millennia of tradition? Regardless of the particular doctrine in question, the point to me, is that my faith tells me that the doctrine is there for a reason. Even if I blow it and sin because the doctrine is difficult to follow and I’m a week sinner, it’s still the doctrine. If I believe that the church is truly apostolic and universal, then I must acknowledge that the doctrine rules.

    Perhaps I’m not smart enough to know the answer, but I am smart enough to see the danger ahead. All the fighting about the offensiveness of this or that and all the name throwing, and all the calls for censorship and/or censure only serve to take our eyes off the prize. Just my $.02.


  • Layman Tom

    Aborted Father/Husband, I hope you are still reading. I suffered the same fate. I know your misery first hand. I was lucky, in that my lovely ex-bride had some shame and changed parishes. So I did not have to face being left behind by both my wife and my church family. However, I know the man she took up with before our marriage was over and eventually remarried very well. They moved to another parish and I am certain are accepted and respected therein. It was very difficult for me to accept that she would receive redemption for blowing up my family and hurting my boys if she was ever truly repentant. As we discuss doctrine and adhering to the beliefs of our church, I’ll go one further and say that it can be a very bitter pill indeed to adhere to the Father’s own words and forgive those who trespass against you. But I’ll also tell you that you cannot run from this. You can leave the church; you can turn your back on God; you can spend the rest of your days actively working against him; but you will NEVER find joy again, or peace again until you submit to his will. He loves you and will get you over this, but you have to surrender to him. It might sound trite, but I experienced it firsthand. I am now happy and at peace.

    I love you brother. One Catholic to another. One human being chewed up and spit out by the evil in this world to another. Please, please reconsider this path. You need him more than ever and he WILL repair your heart if you give him the chance. I’m adding you to my daily prayers brother. Don’t give up!

    I’d ask the rest of my TCT family to pray as well. Doctrine and orthodoxy are important, but so too is taking care of each other I think.

  • Steady State

    The Bible is nowhere to be found in the Bible, so you’re basing everything on an unscriptural assumption. It’s called an oxymoron. “I only believe what I think I can prove the BIBLE says!!!” Where does the Bible reference itself? Where does the Bible tell us of which books the Bible actually consists? “Well that’s not in the Bible, no, that’s unbiblical, but EVERYTHING ELSE that I personally think the Bible teaches is purely biblical!”

    I don’t know if it’s the best way, but sex sells. Peter Kreeft says God isn’t above using pleasure to bring people to virtue. I personally think men are key. I basically taboo to say this, but women basically will believe whatever men tell them to believe. If the Church focuses on men and gives them privileges that make the responsibilities of fatherhood and involvement inparish life worthwhile, they will start telling women not to use contraceptives and things will snowball from there.

  • Guest


    You position is not only unbiblical but it is a form of relativism. You and millions of others make yourselves an authority over the Church. It is really quite absurd.

  • Aborted Father/Husband

    “I am not going to post anything following this single post, so I am not “looking for” and argument.”

    For posting this and not adhering to it, I apologize.

    To those who have kindly prayed for me and more. I do not deserve them but want to thank you, rather than insult you by not expressing my appreciation.

  • bill bannon

    Aborted Father / Husband,
    St. Magadalene of Nagasaki was a 23 year old Japanese girl who was tortured upside down in excrement for 13 days prior to being killed for Christ in the 17th century. Think of her and entrust yourself to her prayers each night. You both suffered. Let her be your prayer friend.

  • Paul

    The elephant in the room is the false ecuminical movement, not some RC using a condom for family planning. All religions will be changed over the next few generations and differences will become so insignificant that a charismatic spiritual leader will beable to unite the majority of people into one religion that claims “Godliness, but denies the power thereof”.

  • Laramie Hirsch

    Sedes have jumped ship. They should climb back into the boat. Look up “Sedevacantism 7: Those who panic” to learn more.

  • Paul


    People are jumping into the water because the ship is sinking and they don’t want to get sucked down with it. Repercussions from Rome for the Winnepeg Statement and pro-choice RC politicians says it all. Just as “The Way” became the HRCC, you won’t reconize this RCC in 300 years maybe less.

  • Joseph D’Hippolito

    “Faith is meant to be yeast that yields a hearty loaf of bread. But since 1968 there has been nothing left to leaven, and we find ourselves eating yeast. ”

    Zimrak describes leaven as something good, when Scripture always alludes to it as something that taints the holy. Jesus Himself told His disciples, “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees,” about whom He really had nothing good to say (Matthew 16:6, Mark 8:15). St. Paul also uses the word in connection with expelling a member of the Corinthian church involved in sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 5: 6-7).

    I could well be misunderstanding the way Zimrak uses the metaphor. But if he is equating the way he uses “yeast” with the way Scripture uses it, then he is misleading people.

  • Mike

    There is some merit to this argument. However: As Cardinal Newman knew well, we are more than cogitating beings. With the “happy-clappy” liturgy, and all its attendant banality, the awesome truth of the our Faith is more difficult to discern. We need a Pope who will REALLY reform the reform, and things will start to grow.

  • Jordanes551

    Mr. D’Hippolito, you’ve entirely forgotten Matthew 13:33. That is the sense in which Mr. Zmirak is using the “leaven” metaphor.

  • Paul

    Re: Matthew 13:33,

    “Jesus is using here a very common picture from any Hebrew household, and everyone present knew that he meant that this woman did an evil, and sneaky thing when she hid this leaven in the meal” Ray C. Stedman

  • CS

    There are tiny Catholic subcultures, to be sure. They include the “truly, true Gnostic interpreters of the Spirit of Vatican II” and also the “sanctimonious document quoters who Know You Are Illicitly Using NFP”. To name a few. But I am someone who has experienced the diversity of Catholicism– I am not sure how Mr. Zmirak gets to claim to be an expert/writer on Catholics when he so obviously has only met a few of them; or maybe it is that he knows a lot of them who belong to the same exact groups. Furthermore, anyone who uses “white trash” is on the wrong track. No matter what.

  • Tantumblogo

    So, Katholycs, the vast majority of which can’t even be bothered to assist at Mass once a week, are going to be reached by teleology, natural law cum rights, and “complex intellectual argument based on the remote implications of natural law reasoning.”

    We’ve been fools! If only we’d known to produce 10,000 word treatises on the complex teleology of Aristotle and how it relates to human dignity, we would have reached the Masses? Now, if we can only cram that into a Super Bowl commercial.

    The author seems to have undergone a sea change of late. I really enjoyed the snide, dismissive comments towards those Catholics doing their utmost to adhere to the Faith in a savagely hostile culture. Yes, tell them about how their kids will leave and hate them, hit ’em where it hurts.

    My takeaway from this screed was that this was nothing less than laying intellectual groundwork to cave on “this one issue.” It’s just contraception that’s driving people from the Faith! Give up on it! We need the 95%! We don’t have to be as radical as Curran! But we’ve gotta throw the 95% a bone! Give ’em contraception, and they’ll be faithful in droves to all the other doctrines they presently reject!

    New day, old argument. This is precisely how opposition to Humanae Vitae started, and then from spun out in its own natural conclusions into all the other areas. Thus, the nasty bashing of those trying to be faithful.

    I had not read The Catholic Thing in some time. Apparently, that was with reason.

  • James

    Perhaps leaven is the wrong analogy. Let’s try salt.

    Jesus calls us to be “salt of the earth”, but as our deacon said in his Sunday homily: “Salt seasons a dish, but too much salt is just nasty. You can’t eat it. You have to throw it out.”

    I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the anti-contraception Catholic subculture is WAY WAY too salty. Even people who would be open to following the Church are turned off by the subculture.

    A big reason so many Catholics reject the teaching on contraception is that they don’t know much about NFP. Scientific doubts about the method are the single biggest reason why Catholic women don’t use it. Yet the anti-contraception subculture is asked scientific questions, they often brush those aside to talk about theology or philosophy, and often in a very amateur way. (When one woman asked her instructor about charting difficulties, she was told that “Maybe this is God’s way of telling you to have another baby.”)

    The key, I believe, is to promote the science first and to promote it as science. One young Catholic woman is currently making a film all about the science behind NFP, how it is good for women’s health, and how people really don’t know about it. It’s projects like THIS that will change people’s views of Church teaching, not more arguments about Natural Law.

  • James

    RE: Medicaid

    Only in the United States is government funded health care in any way controversial. The Catholic Church fully supports government-funded universal health care.

  • Mary Elizabeth

    “[W]hite trash” Catholics? Our family was treated like “white trash” by most (not all!) of the wealthy parishioners at the church/school our kids attended, while my husband worked 60-70 hours a week all year ’round.

    I might suggest the author spend more time in adoration prior to his writing. Michael D. O’Brien, an avid adorer and one of our favorite writers, makes certain he spends even greater time adoring before he pens a book, or anything at all. Be “strengthened and empowered” through “Him,” Mr. Zmirak and Robert Royal, and more will be led to the Church.

  • Magdalene

    Two of our parishes offer confessions every weekday and, guess what?, there are people who go! One parish offers a TLM every Sunday and, guess what?, there are many people, young people, and families there. My parish offers a perfectly offered Novus Ordo and guess what, we have many young families. We have priests that teach us and speak the truth to us and, guess what, our churches are full.

    Yes, sadly, there are still a number of two children families so there is still some rejection of contraception and sterilization but that is changing and even in the Novus Ordo parish we are now seeing 4, 5, and 6 and growing numbers of children.

    The truth must be taught. And there will be pushback from those whose conscience is offended and, sadly, sometimes even bishops support the sinner and not their priests who are doing what they should.

    Our Lord promised persecution and it is coming. Dead bodies (and consciences) float downstream or with the world. Those who read here know–accept?–the teachings of the Church. It is for us to LIVE them. To pray and to witness. This is the age of apostasy and also the age of opportunity to stand up as a Catholic Christian and bear the persecution.

    By the way, I love the extraordinary form of the Mass and find that for some reason the priests who offer it seem to preach and teach the truths of the faith without apology. It is our future!

  • James

    Yes, sadly, there are still a number of two children families so there is still some rejection of contraception and sterilization but that is changing and even in the Novus Ordo parish we are now seeing 4, 5, and 6 and growing numbers of children.

    Wow, I find it amazing there are no subfertile couples in your parish and no couples who have serious reasons to only have two children.

    I do hope your priests are preaching the truths of the faith about rash judgment, calumny, and detraction as well as contraception. Otherwise, you are simply proving the point of this article.

  • I’m white trash, so where’s my trailer park?

    There were working-class people who accepted the discipline of remaining open to life, or the ascetical practice of Natural Family Planning – and there were “white trash” Catholics who used the Church’s teaching as a pretext for going on public assistance. (A shocking number of self-consciously orthodox Catholics whom I have encountered, most of them graduates of small, fervently Catholic colleges, take advantage of food stamps and Medicaid, while patting themselves on the back for being “counter-cultural” at their neighbors’ expense.)

    As someone who graduated from …well a “Catholic” college, and open to life, and on public assistance (heck, I even married one of the illegal immigrants, and I hope you realize the KKK doesn’t accept Catholics so quit trying so hard) I just…wow. So much ignorance. Do my kids count as white trash too, or would you prefer the term half breeds? Have you ever actually met white trash? Because I grew up with them, and to say a college education is lacking is putting the matter lightly. Almost none of them I knew were religious (and especially not Catholic) and they were happy to even sterilize themselves. Maybe you’re just pompous and rich enough that you’re mistaking lower middle and working class white people who find themselves on public assistance as “white trash”. It’s okay, you probably don’t interact with anyone outside your affluent social circle very often, except in places where you are forced to.

    So I’m supposed to what? Take contraceptives? Abort my children so you don’t have to wail about taxes that are extracted from your check anyways, because money is so important? Put strain on my marriage (a real, even Catholic one!) by not having any sex at all because NFP is very reliable but sometimes humans are not? Back to the taxes, why do you worry so much? Do you work 60+ hours per week on less than minimum wage (do you have a job, or are you a trust fund baby?), since farmers have no minimum wage? When you turn in your taxes do you get a refund? Because we don’t. We pay taxes, and then we pay taxes. Oddly enough, the amount of money taken out of my husband’s check correlates almost exactly to the public assistance we get.

    We also garden our own produce, and while I would love a job (or do you have a problem with working mothers? Judging by the interesting terms you use it wouldn’t surprise me if you did.) nobody wants a pregnant mother working for them- after all this is a feminist society and pregnant females are obviously worthless and big sucks on taxes.

    Oh and I wear a veil to Mass. Because I’m trash. Kind of like this article.

    Next time, maybe make this into something shorter. It could easily be summed up in a couple of grunts and moans.

  • Shawn McElhinney

    Aborted Father/Husband

    Your comments saddened me because of the pain you have had to endure first and foremost -and your decision with regards to leaving the Catholic Church secondly. Try to remember at all times that the Church is a dichotomy insofar as the Church is holy while her members are sinners -every last one of them. While I doubt anything could be said to persuade you otherwise at this point, I hope you continue to hang in there and find whatever support groups you can including perhaps a good Spiritual Director. (I would also recommend reading and reflecting on the Book of Job.) You will be in my prayers.

  • Gail Finke

    A lot of people commenting aren’t seeing the forest for the trees. I think he’s exactly right — “ordinary” Catholics are largely gone, and who’s left? A large number of people on the fringes, or at least a higher percentage of them than would be the case if the “ordinaries” were around. And many of those left have a sort of bunker mentality, myself included, mostly because we know or at least sense how few we are and how hostile the culture really is to us and it’s distressing to feel keenly that you seem to be the only one who really cares about what the Church is and does and teaches. But who wants to get in bunker? Unless they see the war, very few.

    If people don’t know this, they are not looking at the Church with a cold eye from the viewpoint of the people outside or the marginal Catholics. I don’t know what the solution is but I don’t think it’s more of what we’re doing now, not because what we’re doing now is wrong but because it is already reaching the people it’s going to reach. Beauty, truth, joy — that’s what attracts people who don’t read encyclicals. And there’s precious little of it, especially joy.

    As someone who came back to the Church as an adult, I can tell you that it is Christ and the truth that brought me back, and not any particular Catholic people or parish. Like many other people who are of the sort who respond to natural law and other intellectual arguments, I found very little in the real, lived Church that seemed to have much to do with the intellectual and moral arguments I was reading — and what I did find was NOT attractive in any other sense. I wanted to find friendly people, beautiful liturgies, prayer and charity, and teachings about how to live as a Christian in a largely hostile world. Well, good luck with that. In my neck of the woods, the Presbyterians offer all of that in heaping doses (they’re wrong, but they do offer those things).

    IMHO most Catholics — not the sort of people who read Catholic blogs and books, but the huge majority of people Zmirak was talking about who never do anything “Catholic” but go to Mass — manage to stay Catholic by pretty much ignoring what little they do know about Church teaching and doing what everyone else they know does, but going to Mass on occasional Sundays. There’s still a connection, still a sense that the Catholic Church is important enough not to abandon, but they are bewildered about most teachings and don’t accept what little they do know about most of them. But they’re THERE. They’re US. There are a lot more of us who have left, but who (I think) would come back if we gave them a reason to. These folks don’t care about fine points of theology, important though they are (if they did, they would already be back), they care about God and Christ. We need to give them Christ. The theology part is here, it’s available to those who look in books and on Catholic radio and television and speakers and retreats and conferences. Yay us, WE DID IT. Now we need to do more. I think it is happening, but from many different places and sources, so it’s hard to see. At least, I hope so…

  • Lourdes Sanchez

    In response to some of the angry, defensive comments posted here on the subject of highly educated Catholics using the Church’s teaching as a pretext for living on public assistance, I thought I’d further the discussion by posting a digest of Dr. Zmirak’s actual statements. These were helpfully collated by “emma” – one of Zmirak’s attentive readers – on the blog “Catholic History Nerd”:

    emmasrandomthoughts February 19, 2014 at 9:22 AM

    I’m not a fan of John Zmirak, but I’ve read his work for a number of years, so I can probably explain what he means by the “white trash” comment.

    As you know, the official Church teaching does allow couples to postpone pregnancy for financial reasons. However, there are many Catholics who believe that no couple in the United States could possibly have financial reasons for postponing pregnancy. (Simcha Fisher once called their attitude, “Fill your empty bellies with rocks and start conceiving!) As a result, they tell couples on Medicaid and Food Stamps that they are sinning if they postpone pregnancy. I have seen people in comboxes advocate that couples go on Food Stamps and Medicaid IN ORDER to have more children. Couples who choose to postpone pregnancy rather than use government assistance for the rest of the mother’s fertility, then they have a “contraceptive mentality” or “lack faith” etc.

    There is a group of Catholics who believe that contraception is not only A sin, but the ONLY sin. John Zmirak has argued in previous articles that, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, a father has a natural responsibility to provide for his children. For John Zmirak, this means that a man who CHOOSES to rely on Food Stamps and Medicaid rather than provide for children by the sweat of his brow are committing a sin.

    What does this mean for “white trash Catholics?” For John Zmirak, this means that a Catholic family who find themselves in a position where they must rely on Food Stamps and Medicaid may use those things. HOWEVER, he also believes that the father is MORALLY OBLIGATED to try to find a way to support his family through his own labor, AND that a couple SHOULD postpone having a child until they can afford to feed the child.

    John Zmirak believes that, for many traditionalist Catholics, fertility has become an idol. Some of them believe that every single Catholic family is morally obligated to have as many children as they possibly can. John Zmirak believes that this belief ignores key realities, namely,

    1 Parents (particularly Fathers) have a natural duty to provide for their children’s material needs.
    2 Parents have a duty to educate their children, as well as procreate them.
    3 The end goal of a baby is to become a healthy, productive, adult citizen.

    For John Zmirak, a Catholic couple who intentionally have a child knowing full well that they cannot fulfill these three obligations, are white trash. He also believes that it does not look good to the general, non Catholic population when they see a family continue to have children even though they know full well that they cannot afford to feed them without government assistance. It’s bad PR.

  • Carlos Caso-Rosendi

    The Torah teaches that clean animals must chew the cud and split the hoof (Leviticus 11:3-8 and Deuteronomy 14:4-8) Paraphrasing a Jewish sage that once wrote: “The Torah thus teaches that we must meditate [chew] the Word of God and also walk by it.” For those who know the Law of God but fail to walk by it are more unclean than those who knowing nothing are naturally inclined to walk with God.

    But there is an even better way to really please God: to both love His Word and walk by it. Then we shall be more pleasing to Him than many sacrifices.

  • Chris Ferrara

    Speaking of the five percent of Catholics who still believe and follow all of the teaching of the Church on faith and morals, Zmirak writes: “But one thing is certain: It is as inbred as a pack of captive cheetahs, with all the dangers of deformity and disease that that implies.”

    What about the 95% who have more or less apostatized from the Catholic religion? No danger of deformity and disease there? The five percent who believe and follow “need” the 95% who don’t?

    Perhaps the five percent should join the 95%. Then the “silent apostasy” John Paul II lamented would be total, and Zmirak would be left with no Catholics to ridicule. He could then perhaps turn to other subjects.

  • Matt

    “All of these truths can be argued without any reference to Jesus or the Church.”

  • Theo

    Most commenters here have missed john’s larger point that the Church is not only numerically smaller but also more inwardly focused. The absence of “middling” Catholics ( really bad choice of words) shows a Church so disconnected from mainstream society that most baptized Catholics don’t even bother trying to learn about or follow their church’s teachings.

    In my lifetime (I’m 41) I can remember standing room only masses and 2 hr confessions every fri and sat night. I remember seeing people all ovr the place with ashes on their forehead. These are now rare sights.

    Frankly, reading conservative catholic blogs (really, are there any other kind?) one gets the impression that unless you’re an NFP’r homeschooling your 6+ kids and leading a ministry at your parish then you ain’t cutting it. I have two autistic kids and I’d like to know how parents of 5,6,7 or more kids bring their autistic kids to occupational, speech, ABA therapy appointments?

    In fairness to the above mentioned people, they are the only thing on the lay side of the equation keeping this whole thing going at this point and the life they are leading is kind of the one that logically follows from the CCC. Maybe the problem is that Catholicism isn’t universal and seemed that way for so long because medicine and science hadn’t given us things like birth control, morning after pills, cloning etc.

  • Raised in the Inbred Pack

    Yes to what Zmirak writes and what Theo said above–the absence of “middling” Catholics has contributed to a lot of unhealthiness in the so-called faithful remnant.

    I grew up in that remnant and attended one of those small orthodox colleges Zmirak mentions. Several decades later, many of the marriages of my alumni (not to mention friends and families) are a mess, and they are not exactly a shining light to the rest of society. Even the ones that manage to look wonderful on the outside often have a lot of dysfunction on the inside (case in point–I know one very popular Catholic mommy-blogger in real life, and her husband treats her like dirt–if her cheerleader followers only knew what her life was really like rather than what she presents on her blog, they’d be gobsmacked).

    This small inbred group quite frankly often doesn’t have what people want. They don’t have the kinds of marriages and family life most people want. Many are flat-out weird, many seem to enjoy being “persecuted” by society and revel in their weirdness.

    There are some normal couples and families, but they are rather few and far between. Several of my siblings attended one of the other small Catholic orthodox colleges and report similar experiences among their fellow grads and alumni.

    It is a major turnoff to society, and while I don’t have the answers to the problem (I disagree with the end of Zmirak’s article–I don’t think anywhere near 95% of people are likely to be turned on to HV by any of the arguments he lists—the vast majority of people are going to do what they perceive to be right for their family in the here and now and either 1) decide that the Church doesn’t know what she is talking about, or 2) decide that in the face of two evils, they will choose the lesser one and do what is right for their family now (e.g. get sterilized after 3,4, or 5 kids, knowing full well they can’t handle the 6,8,10, or 12 kids that so many couples belonging to the inbred pack have), hoping and praying for God’s mercy on judgement day.

  • PJ

    Sedevacantism is the only solution here (or some variant if a consensus could be created). Sorry to say but embracing contraception was only a symptom of the problem of lost grace from following pseudopopes. And, it wasn’t only the laypeople at fault for taking on contraceptive mentalities, but the “priests”, some valid and some not, who sat and allowed these people to come to the “Eucharist” (valid or not) and commit sacrilege, without being reprimanded and/or excommunicated (for other heresies). The Church leaders (or non-Catholics who posed as Cathlics and who led Catholics from the Church) committed fornication with the world rather than to stay abstinent and withdrawn, so now the Church has been reduced to a handful and all manner of scandal and bad example have created this “Catholic” subculture you rightly lament.

    But, come now, God’s bigger than this. What does He tell us to do to restore the Church, when we pray?

    You know this lament is good. But now can you follow it up with your vision, plan, and action taken to restore the Church? If you disagree with traditionalists, have you reached out to bring them back to your [false] church?

    P.S. See distributism and Catholic Action

  • sheri

    Dead on!!!!
    What do you think about making it mandatory to take NFP before getting married RC?
    I’m going to our Bishop with that. Wish me luck!!!